#Firstworldproblems

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On this very merry Christmas I’m thinking about all the problems we have and the United States has a LOT of problems.  Our rankings in health and education are abysmal and falling; our economic growth is anemic; our income inequality is skyrocketing; our political processes are bought out by “Special interest groups” (whatever that means); our congress is the worst congress in the history of this country by any objective measure #teaparty;  Our infrastructure is crumbling, and our debt is rising (though the deficit is shrinking so that’s good).  In short, people are stupid and getting stupider.

The other thing I want to point out is that these are all entirely first world problems.  Consider the deficit/debt issue.  We’ve had high debt/deficit for years.  However, it’s a tribute to our wealth and power that we can get away with it for as long as we have, and, in fact, we can get away with it for a long time to come before we destabilize the global economy.  That’s just how awesome we are.  No other country could get away with this kind of generational fiscal mismanagement for as long as the US #Greece.  And to a lesser degree this is generally true for other western nations as well.  The more wealth and power you have, the longer you can maintain your incompetence.  So long story short, it sucks to be a developing nation whose fragile economy crashes on the whims of foreign investors and huge international banking consortia.  Ok, so I might be exaggerating.  A little.  Their economic systems usually crash for very good reasons.  The point is they don’t have the generational reserves that richer countries do.  It’s one thing to look down your nose at a people for incompetence when you don’t face the same consequences for the same mistakes and another to try and build from the wreckage of the last attempt at fixing the economy.  And speaking of generational mismanagement.  Our economic problems aren’t that difficult to fix.  We need a relatively simple overhaul of the tax code and increased infrastructure spending.  It’s politically challenging perhaps, but not technically challenging.

The same is true of our educational system.  We spend about 5% of our GDP on education.  Raise that to %8 or %10 and you would revolutionize the educational system.  Again, this isn’t technically challenging.  We’d have to recruit more teachers.  Easy enough.   Build a few more schools.  Again.  Easy enough.  Better fund research into best practices, (which we’re already doing, in part, through common core).  Better education isn’t terribly challenging for the US.  It’s a matter of political will.  Our population isn’t starting from a point of severe illiteracy.  We aren’t running a critical ongoing shortage of teachers.  We don’t lack for colleges and universities to train more.  Even our worst schools are better than a mere cement slab and a tin roof because that’s the best some nations can do.  What’s worse, our students won’t get shot for just trying to go to that lousy school in the first place.  #Malala  We certainly have the money if we wanted to spend it on Education.  We might have to pull resources through increased taxation or from the military but it’s there if we had the will.

You can even look at the so called corruption in this country.  Yeah, I’m not happy about dark money funding think tanks that advocate anti-democratic ideals like funding climate change denier groups or the revolving door between regulators and the industries they’re supposed to be regulating. For any political battle you’ll find hidden anonymous financing and that’s bad.  That’s corruption, but that kind of corruption is a first world problem.  The best that these groups can do is sway public opinion, that’s not the best that political groups can do in other countries.  In other countries they can shoot you.  Running attack ads and conflicts of interest among public officials is a far cry from the persistent, pervasive, destructive corruption around the world.  I’m not saying there’s no corruption in America or the corruption we do have isn’t a problem; I’m saying that we don’t have a NarcoState like in parts of Central and South America, or an Oligarchy in parts of Asia, or a MafiaState in Russia and the former Soviet Union.  You don’t like you’re gay hating congressman and the anonymous financing he gets from where ever?  Don’t vote for him.  This is a choice you have.  All the money in the world can’t change that, as Republicans found out in the last election.  

We may have divided congresspeople with entrenched positions refusing compromise with each other, but this country isn’t divided along racial and ethnic tensions to the point of civil war and genetic cleansing from rampant uncontrollable militias.  I’m not being dismissive of racism and prejudice in this country, I’m saying that our problems aren’t like the problems in other countries.  For example, our black president didn’t just fire our white vice president for threatening a white coup putting our country on the bleeding edge of a civil war.  Because that did just happen in the South Sudan.  They’re already uncovering mass graves.  It’s not white/black but Dinka and Nuer and they’re already killing each other over oil fields and a real or perceived lack of inclusion in the new government.  Yeah we’ve got first world problems.  

I didn’t write this blog to say that our problems aren’t real or that we don’t have them.  I wrote them to put our issues in context within the larger community.  Duck Dynasty Phil #IstandwithPhil may be racist and homophobic but we’re not #Uganda.  Political and economic inequality is bad, but it can be fixed with relatively simple changes as opposed to the revolution that is going to be necessary in other places like Russia or Saudi Arabia.  The desperate struggle for mere survival in huge parts of the world can teach us something going forward.  Let’s think better of ourselves and others, forgive the bigots and the jerks, work together, compromise frequently and often, and in the immortal words of Wil Wheaton, “don’t be a dick”.  Merry Christmas everyone.

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