Blogs > Steve Hochstadt > We Don’t Know What We Are Doing

Oct 3, 2019

We Don’t Know What We Are Doing

tags: politics,philosophy,political history

Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history emeritus at Illinois College, who blogs for HNN and LAProgressive, and writes about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

We don’t know what we are doing about poverty. The Great Society programs reduced the poverty rate during the 1960s from 22% to 12%, but since 1970, rates of poverty in the US have remained between 10% and 15%. The proportion of children living in poverty is higher, perhaps as high as 21%. The poverty rate in the US is higher than nearly all other highly developed countries, and about twice as high as most countries in western Europe. The wide variety of federal and state programs for the poor have simply managed to maintain poverty rates at the same level for 50 years. Our policy-makers, Democrat and Republican, have been tinkering around the edges of poverty, but have not found a set of policies which can make an impact. Raising the minimum wage significantly, say to $15 an hour, would slightly reduce poverty, but not eliminate it.

We don’t know what we are doing about homelessness. Since the great recession of 2008, homelessness has dropped slightly in the US from about 650,000 to 550,000 in 2016, as poverty levels, the main cause of homelessness, fell. Since 2016, homelessness has again risen.

We don’t know what we are doing about the invasion of our lives by the internet. Misinformation and disinformation, transferred to us instantaneously and constantly, pollute our brains. Young people are not only addicted to their phones, for too many their ambitions are entirely tied up in hopes of becoming “influencers” in virtual space. Impenetrable corporations demand to know our private information, and then collect, exploit and sell it.

We don’t know what we are doing about climate change. Scientific experts warn us about how much damage we have already done to the environment by lifestyles that few people are willing to change. Rising temperatures in the earth’s oceans have already caused irreparable damage to aquatic life and to the human lives that depend on it. No nation has put into place policies that are sufficient to eliminate further warming. No scientific warning has been able to move enough people to demand the changes that are necessary. Nearly half of Americans continue to vote for a party which officially denies that climate change is a problem.

We don’t know what we are doing about the corruption of our society and our politics by money. This is nothing new. Despite centuries of agonizing about how to prevent those with money from amassing the power to suck up more money through illegitimate means, in democratic and authoritarian societies, we are no closer to a solution.

We don’t know what we are doing about the widening social chasms, the hollowing out of the middle, the growing anger, not just at the system or “the man”, but at each other.

We don’t know what we are doing about the linkage among all these problems. For the millennia that humans have walked the earth, it didn’t matter if we didn’t know what we were doing. The carefully balanced global natural systems that supported an incredible variety of life were impervious to the local activities of bands of humans. But now, with nearly 8 billion people digging up the earth, consuming everything we can get our hands on, spewing waste in every direction, and accelerating the speeds of these processes every day, we have thrown the earth out of balance. As our world apparently hurtles toward ecological, political, and social disaster, we have created problems for which there are no solutions in sight.

Now is the tipping point. And we don’t know what we are doing.

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