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Economic Cleansing in America

What we are watching is the ultimate product of our market-driven society: the eradication of the lower class -- in this case poor African Americans -- by.
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As we all sit in dismay watching the bodies float through the streets of New Orleans on TV, it may seem like the free market bears no real connection to this weather-driven event. And yet what we are watching is the ultimate product of our market-driven society: the eradication of the lower class -- in this case poor African Americans -- by economic cleansing. While a hurricane may be the agent, Katrina is shining a spotlight on the reality of what America has become, a society that has traded in its moral principles for market principles.

The free market is not just an economic theory, it is an entire belief system based on the principle of competition, i.e. me vs. you. This system cannot survive, however, unless it is restrained by a framework of higher values based on the principle of unity, i.e. us. The tremendous success of America has always been the product of the delicate balance between these two belief systems, one emanating primarily from the world of business, and the other from the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, for diverse reasons -- technological and cultural -- market forces have become extraordinarily strong in recent decades, to the point where the market belief system now permeates all aspects of American life. The result is that we no longer care about "us" the way we once did, with devastating results.

As the principle of me vs. you has taken over, we've become a winner-takes-all society. The income gap between rich and poor has been rising steadily since 1967. This is especially true in cities like New Orleans, a predominately black city where one in four residents lived below the poverty line. Among the financial winners, noblesse oblige is dead, e.g. you don't see the upper class fighting in Iraq. Instead, our elite use an economic draft to fill the ranks, while hoarding their wealth like a corrupt oligarchy. Moreover, that wealth is often from ill-gotten gains, as the past four years of corporate scandals decisively proves. Together, the Tyco and Hollinger scandals alone represent over $1 billion that the few at the top stole from the many below. Others cleverly manipulate the tax code to achieve the same end.

In this market-driven age, our society has grown increasingly Darwinian. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina proves it. One of the instruments of that immoral selection is health care. Forty million Americans, most of them at the lower rungs, live at mortal risk due to a lack of health insurance. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the medical care provided the lower 5% of Americans is on par with that of West Africa. This is a very efficient way of economic cleansing. Another is our affection for imprisonment. As the winner-takes-all society intensifies, it is only natural that those at the bottom turn to crime, particularly when those at the top have as well, in highly public ways. The prison population in America is now around 2.1 million people, the largest per capita of any industrialized nation. That is, incredibly, the equivalent of putting the entire populations of Boston, Seattle, Denver and Washington D.C. behind bars.

A Me Society will never build a great civilization and it is folly to promote any theory that maintains otherwise. We need to understand that the market belief system is only part of our society, and the lower part at that. Without those values that promote social unity, be they cultural, familial, religious, aesthetic, moral, or democratic, the water will continue to rise.

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