Friday, January 6, 2012

Darque Wing on the Decline of America

Here's a good measure to see just how far America has declined: in the last century, the nation undertook major initiatives to expand the infrastructure that helped to create the mega-economy that we once had. For example, the electrification of rural America - it was a huge financial risk, but the federal government was responsible for bringing electricity to much of rural America. Businesses had already sprung up to deliver electricity to cities, but business interests saw it as too expensive with too little return to bring electricity out to the rest of the country - an initiative that completely changed life in states like Iowa, which have no metropolitan centers and thus would still be ignored by power companies if it weren't for the 1936 Rural Electrification Act.

Or the interstate highways - like electricity, these roads serve as an integral part of the social and commercial lives of Americans. No corporation would have laid out the enormous cost of building such a highway network, and they certainly wouldn't have allowed anyone to use it for free. And yet, since the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, championed by Eisenhower (a Republican pushing for massive federal spending! gasp!), we've built more than 46,000 miles of interstate highway. Without it, our way of life would cease to exist in about 24 hours - that much of our business is conducted with the help of travel, that much of our food is delivered by truck, that much of our lives depend on mobility.

When Kennedy called for a moon shot, the technology and expertise to create and use it simply didn't exist. But that one call, and plenty of government funding, created a push for education in math and science like none before. A generation of engineers, designers, materials scientists, physicists, and cosmologists was eagerly trained and put on the job, all on the government dime. Not only did we get to the moon in style, we achieved historical advancements in everything from plastics to aerospace design to communications, advancements that became some of the most essential technologies of our day.

So what are we doing now to build the infrastructure of tomorrow, to spur on the economic activity of the 21st century and beyond? Fuck all, that's what. We're letting the bridges and highways that our grandparents built decay. We're desperately seeking back-breaking austerity measures and chasing the dreams of people who sincerely wish for a return to the values (and, apparently, standard of living) of the 18th century. Not only are we ignoring the projects that could create as much opportunity in the future as rural electrification and highways did last century, but we're actually taking a step backward by not maintaining the infrastructure we do have.

What are the projects of tomorrow we're ignoring so that we can debate how best to deliver tax breaks to billionaires? For one, the internet. With SOPA, our leaders have declared war on the internet, stifling it just to make sure nobody gets free music. Meanwhile, thanks to lack of competition (functionally identical to a monopoly state), telecommunications companies are charging customers outrageous fees for access to "high-speed" internet access (most of which is carried on the cable system from the telegraph era, the very best of late-nineteenth-century tech). Meanwhile, those nasty socialist countries - you know, the ones with governments that spend tax money on social programs instead of oil wars? - are building the internet infrastructure of tomorrow, with speeds many times what we see here in America, and for a much lower cost, if any. And it isn't just about letting people log onto Facebook or looking at porn, either - billions of dollars in business every day count on the internet for everything from ordering to internal communications to advertising. If we looked at the internet like our mid-twentieth-century counterparts, our Congress would be looking to create a federally-funded fiberoptic network of astronomical speed, and then delivering it across the country - all as a public utility, in the interest of improving the social and commercial lifestyle of tomorrow.

But no, instead of creating the environment in which everyone prospers, we're more interested in de-funding everything to afford more tax breaks for rich people. People talk about the decline of America, as if it has something to do with gays getting married or how many "czars" the President appoints. Bull. If you want to see just how much America has declined, look no further than the difference between how we used to embrace opportunity and how we now quash it.

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