America Is Dead
November 06 2015
America had always been an auspicious place: a vast blank canvas upon which ideals and ideas of every stripe could be pasted and pinned and painted. Its mythology is one of revolutionaries‚ pioneers‚ innovators and explorers living comfortably and free‚ fed by bountiful seas and endless amber waves of grain.
When the land was empty‚ it was only a matter of building upon it. Forests became farms. When everyone got a car‚ farms became subdivisions. Then‚ a world-changing war greased up the factories and growth thus became a matter of patriotism. Subdivisions became suburbs and everyone bought shiny things on credit. Suburbs sprawled and the mall was born. The big box was born. Traffic jams and smog controls and planned obsolescence were born.
America was still an optimist then. A thoroughly middle-class country‚ in which the most people were the best off. It was a compromise made possible through checks and regulations that ensured growth begat prosperity. Then Reagan unleashed a deregulated material world and growth became the only matter of patriotism. Growth from then on begat only growth.
Our economy—ostensibly larger now than it has ever been— is now anchored to mercurial‚ speculative numbers mostly unattached from material consequence. Poverty and growth now have little correlation. These are the spaces left over from those hopeful old Space Age days—the malls and motels and modest old ’burbs. Growth outgrew them.