Regardless of one’s personal politics, it’s fair to say that the United States is an impressive specimen of a country. In less than 250 years, a group of colonists created their own united government, successfully built an economic powerhouse, and devised a strategy of global hegemony. It’s easy to stop at that and say, “Dang! What a great country, it’s the best!” I’m proud to be an American, especially when I’m in a room of foreigners from different countries all over the world, but I am not so arrogant to say my country is free of economic problems and social strife which has led me to think deeply about this subject on the 235th celebration of American independence.
I wanted to write an Independence Day post that simply encouraged others to spark up their barbecues and crack open a beer on a hot, summer day. Instead, I was inspired by a conversation with a French family member on the verge of reluctantly moving back to France after an enjoyable two years of living in the U.S..
This French family lives the American dream with French protection and they know it. They live with a salary paid in Euros, which is one and a half times the dollar, thus necessitating only one working parent and one at home with the kids, with French health benefits, five week paid vacations, free university education for their three kids, not to mention job security as French long term employees cannot be fired on the drop of a dime without serious long term compensation. Strip that all away, and they’d be stuck just like a vast majority of other Americans: two working parents, latch key kids, little to no vacation time, sketchy job security, living month to month wondering how on earth will they manage to put all three kids in college and have some retirement for themselves, let alone leave an inheritance for their children and grandchildren; all while praying they don’t get sick as a major health crisis could put their family into bankruptcy. What a sobering and alarming reality for one of the world’s greatest countries, I thought to myself.
In bed last night, I was listening to the radio about the present state of the American economy and how some top economists, like Paul Krugman, believe the United States is heading towards a banana republic: a politically and economically unstable economy that relies on a sole export (such as bananas) with a corrupt leadership of wealthy business executives or oligarchy.
As other countries are gaining economic strength and political stability through production and trade, the United States is becoming less a hegemonic power and more of a debtor to richer countries such as China, India, and those in the European Union. Presently, there is a debate between the American executive and legislative branches to raise the country’s debt ceiling which if is not raised, some fear, will threaten the stability of the American economy by consequently lowering stock values, dollar value, and increase interest rates, ultimately sending the US into another deep recession. Not only is the country itself in major debt, average Americans themselves are struggling to pay off mortgages on homes worth far below their present market value and paying off credit card debt with high interest rates to afford lifestyles beyond their financial means as living wages stagnate.
On the short term, Americans will survive as their government plays out on the national stage impending recession and all. On the long term, this means that the government will have to make draconian cuts to the government budget, primarily cutting costs in areas that average and lower income Americans are most affected by such as medicare, medicaid, social security retirement, and other programs affecting the deeper economic fabric and unified social strength of America. A developing threat on a long term global scale, the world will become a post-American world, no longer heavily depending on the economic, educational, and social influences of America as other countries will continue to grow, thrive, and flourish under their own non-constitutional republican regimes, competitive educational systems, and burgeoning industries and economies. How are Americans to deal?
In light of these national and global growing pains, Americans have the choice to either continue a life embroiled in debt or to simplify their lives to create greater independence. This means cutting down on consumption, reducing lifestyle spending, spending less time satisfying material desires and more times meeting real social and financial needs. Americans are making these decisions every day and the paradigm is changing slowly, but surely as the latter decision requires severe self-discipline , which Americans are historically famous for but have, on a global scale, long since abandoned, requiring the tightening of belts, getting serious about what is really important, and involving themselves in the political process that indeed affects American lives in every possible way.
Independence demands individual responsibility and accountability for what happens at every level of our complex local, national, and international networks and naturally, it begins on the individual spiritual level by asking the question we should all be asking ourselves today, “How can I feel free on both physical and spiritual levels?” Answers to this question can be ensuring employment protections, having access to adequate health care, preserving privacy, free speech, and property rights, freedom from debt, corporate and government abuses, and freedom from physical violence. No matter how one answers this question, the action to ensuring such answers become a reality is throughout participant observation: involving and transforming ourselves in the evolutionary processes that are happening around us.
What does (American) independence mean to you? How are you ensuring your own independence for yourself and for tomorrow’s generations?