Friday, August 2, 2013

We're Doing It Wrong

Chapter 9 Mile

Detroit is bankrupt. Or not. Or it is. Regardless, the city that provided the American Dream's 20th century engine has fallen victim to the 21st century version. By now you've likely heard most of the stats: it was the 5th most populous city in America in 1950 with over 1.8 million (and only a couple hundred thousand short of 3rd), today only about 700,000 remain, nearly a quarter million have left in the past decade alone; half the parks have closed since 2008; 78,000 vacant structures and 60,000 vacant land parcels; 40% of the streetlights are out and the city has just 36 ambulances, of which generally no more than 14 are in operation at any given time, and there about 12,000 fires a year to go along with the highest violent crime rate in the US (why not bust a cap in someone's ass for a few bucks when you can get a pizza delivered faster than it takes the cops to respond, about 58 minutes compared to the 11 minute national average and only 8.7% of the cases are solved compared to 30.5% nationwide); tax collections are down 20% over the past five years and the official unemployment rate stands at 18% which is misleadingly low as less than half of those over 16 are actually working. Oh, and there's $18 billion in debt growing by a few hundred million a year. You know the script by now, cue the neoliberal-agenda-advancing blame game chorus of big government, corrupt politicians, greedy unions and gold-plated pension plans because, as we know, this is an isolated incident that the free market will clean up with its invisible hand, just another black swan, nothing that even an awful Hollywood movie could've predicted:

Er, you mean..., no, it can't be so simp..., seriously? ROBOCOP 2! It couldn't have at least copied the script from the original? Is it really just a transparent attempt to sell off what remains of the commonweal and maybe establish an Ayn Randian tax-free "commonwealth" for our modern day John Galts on Belle Isle selling citizenship at $300,000 a head in hopes of becoming a 'Midwest Tiger' to compete with the Asian Tiger of Singapore? Wait, no, this just seems like a thinly veiled attempt to impose an anarcho-capitalistic future on all of us, after all, $37 million, that's just monopoly money, Omni Consumer Products (OCP) doesn't really exist and we all know there's no such thing as robocops to come and save the day! Alas, that's the point, science fiction isn't meant to read as an instructional manual but a warning. The dream has become a nightmare we must wake from and realize that Detroit is but a microcosm of the defunct American model that celebrates profitability rather than society, individuality over solidarity and conformity but not equality. Otherwise, they'll keep turning up the heat by adding zeroes to the bill, turn OCP into an acronym for Oligarch Controlled Polity while their semi-autonomous drones circle the skies keeping us in line.
What's Going On? First off, there is a lot of blame to spread around and it's easy to get lost in detail and fail to separate cause from effect, especially as so many of the latter are easily packaged and sold as the former. Corrupt politicians such as Kwame Kilpatrick taking kickbacks or a city run by a one-party government sure look like causes, but they're not. Even the more obvious culprits such as the '67 race riots and the resultant white-flight or the cities susceptibility to disaster due to the lack of economic diversity that comes with being a one-industry town were nothing but manifestations of the root of the problem. Ditto the city's 60% poverty rate for children and the 50% of the population reported to be functionally illiterate. No, we've gotta go way back, maybe not as far as Adam Smith or David Ricardo as it isn't capitalism itself we need to castigate nor even to Henry Ford's first assembly line to find the cause of Detroit's decline. It might seem a bit unfair and facile but let's simplify things and point the finger at poor old Simon Kuznets and his work developing the first comprehensive set of measures of national income, what we know today as GNP and GDP.

Wait, bear with me a moment as not only will it take at least that long to explain how something as mundane and seemingly practical could be the cause of Motown's meltdown but the reality is Simon saw the great danger of his work from the get go and therefore seems a very good place to start the explanation. In his first report to the US Congress in a section titled "Uses and Abuses of National Income Measurements" he warned:

The valuable capacity of the human mind to simplify a complex situation in a compact characterization becomes dangerous when not controlled in terms of definitely stated criteria. With quantitative measurements especially, the definiteness of the result suggests, often misleadingly, a precision and simplicity in the outlines of the object measured. Measurements of national income are subject to this type of illusion and resulting abuse, especially since they deal with matters that are the center of conflict of opposing social groups where the effectiveness of an argument is often contingent upon oversimplification. [...]

All these qualifications upon estimates of national income as an index of productivity are just as important when income measurements are interpreted from the point of view of economic welfare. But in the latter case additional difficulties will be suggested to anyone who wants to penetrate below the surface of total figures and market values. Economic welfare cannot be adequately measured unless the personal distribution of income is known. And no income measurement undertakes to estimate the reverse side of income, that is, the intensity and unpleasantness of effort going into the earning of income. The welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined above.
Pretty prescient stuff for an economist. Unsurprisingly, we failed to heed his warnings and this one number (well, two, GNP and GDP are different) and more specifically making sure it's constantly climbing has become the primary purpose of public policy. In fact, as economics and finance have come to completely rule our lives it's become an unhealthy obsession, the disease of our civilization.

Again, we need to pause and explain ourselves. Growth is good up to a point; there is no denying that life has been improved for billions thanks to the benefits accrued by advancements owed to growth. However,  we need to ask ourselves what is the point of growth if not to improve our quality of life? Now, there's a tricky term, "quality of life", how to measure growth against something so seemingly subjective? Living standards quickly devolves to "material living standards" and how many iPads everyone has. Happiness? Sounds good, but tough to quantify. Satisfaction? Ditto. All equally slippery. So let's start simple and graph the relationship of life expectancy versus per capita GDP in various countries. (More complete country chart can be found here.)

The first thing that jumps out is the near vertical rise on the left side as life expectancy quickly rises along with GDP. However, it's hard to miss the diminishing 'bang for the buck' we get from raising GDP, to the point that it seems to not have much effect after as little as $10,000 per head, hello Costa Rica. Interesting but so what, right? Well, we were originally trying to find the cause for Detroit's demise, but this is our first peek into the likely cause of not only the troubles there plus in Greece, Stockton, CA, Portugal, Jefferson County, Al, , Cyprus and those to come from Baltimore to California to Italy but also into what ails much of the west as efforts around the world for the past 75 years have focused on one thing: increasing GDP.

Us humans are amazing in so many ways but one of our biggest failings is the inability to let go of strongly held beliefs, especially when they've explained so much, and worked so well, for so long. GDP and economics is no exception as cognitive dissonance and groupthink combine to create blind spots. Especially in America where after first beginning to recover from the Great Depression and then emerging virtually unscathed from World War II to find itself the only running engine to power the world's economy, GDP continued marching upwards. A key to remember at this point is that much of this period of strong growth coincided with a huge reduction in income (and wealth) inequality as much of the fruits of growth was spread from the penthouse executive board room to the basement boiler room. Also worth noting are the words of the foremost economist of the era, John Maynard Keynes, who upon seeing the tremendous opportunities made possible by growth, predicted that the working week would be cut to perhaps 15 hours a week, with people choosing to have far more leisure time as their material needs were satisfied. Incredibly, his optimistic prediction that (material) living standards in "progressive countries" would be between four and eight times higher was made in 1930, a year into the Great Depression! Sadly, this latter prediction has proved true (living standard in developed western economies will have risen about eightfold by 2030) while the former has fallen flat on its face.

You're probably wondering what all this has to do with Detroit, right? One word, hyphenated or not, like Jay Z: neoliberalism. It has not only robbed us of real progress but also ensures there will be many more Detroits and Greeces to come. See, growth, like so much that tastes good at first but eventually turns poisonous, became addictive. All was good up to the 1970s when the United States' unchallenged position as the colossus of the capitalist world came under assault. Rising international competition (read: Japan) as other nations had finally recovered their industrial base after the war coupled with multiple oil shocks as the Arab world awoke to the rape of their resources in return for peanuts led to declining productivity and profitability along with rampant inflation and unemployment, stagflation. Oh, there was a little war they lost too. The corresponding loss in confidence in the dollar also forced Nixon to end its convertibility to gold and take the world into the little understood world of fiat currencies. About the same time as growth seemed to be stalling, the Club of Rome's The Limits of Growth was making Malthusian claims on the unsustainability of infinite growth. The US was ripe for a revolution and they got it in neoliberalism.

The popular myth is that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher rode in to save the day. Of course they were nothing but marionettes and we all know that a marionette's puppeteer is called a manipulator and so it should come as no surprise that they also manipulated us. From neoliberal prophet Friedrich Hayek and his Mount Pelerin Society the poison oozed through Milton Friedman into the University of Chicago to spill out into the world via thinktanks spewing propaganda to be transmitted by their media lackeys and forced onto the rest of the world by the IMF, World Bank and WTO. America has the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute while the UK's versions include the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies founded in 1974 by Thatcher's mentor, Keith Joseph. Despite their benign sounding names, these are radical organizations with almost nothing to do with the likes of Adam Smith who understood something about Moral Sentiments and the dangers of private monopolies and everything to do with Hayek, Friedman and Rand and their belief in extreme individualism or social Darwinism. Freedom could only be achieved through economic liberalization meaning free trade, privatization, deregulation and relying on markets to provide public services.

No party on either side of the Atlantic has a monopoly on this evil. Democrat Jimmy Carter began the deregulation of the banking and transportation sectors. His party's Bill Clinton tag teamed with Labour's Tony Blair in devising the "third way" in a failed attempt to reconcile neoliberal economics with a commitment to social justice. This was always just smoke and mirrors to fool the unwashed masses as neoliberalism is inimical to the public good as it is always secondary to the market, an ideology wedded to the belief that the market should be the organizing principle for all political, social and economic considerations. As the benefits of citizenship are allocated on the basis of perceived economic utility to the state, corporations are considered the primary citizens while individuals are seen as consumers first and citizens second, peripheral ones at that. Corporations and those in the 1% are portrayed as job creators while the bottom 20% are framed as economic leeches siphoning off financial benefits they don't deserve when it is the opposite that is true as economic policy is designed to distribute wealth upward. Tax breaks and subsidies for corporations and the wealthy are called market incentives while benefits to the poor, aged or disabled are framed as entitlements. However, rather than withering away, as neoliberal theory would have it, the state has instead grown as it plays an active role in the introduction, implementation and reproduction of neoliberalism.

The Tracks Of My Tears
Yeah, yeah, you're still wondering what all this has to do with Detroit going from being the city with the highest median income to bankruptcy in half a century and what it means to America and the rest of us. History has already been rewritten to tell us high wages and benefits were Henry Ford's idea when in fact they were fought for and won through struggle and solidarity. World War II had cemented Detroit's industrial importance as the Arsenal of Democracy and it seemed a place which was proof of capitalism's ability to generate and maintain a large middle class. The illusion was short-lived as jobs were already flowing out of the city to the suburbs in the 1950s just as the migration of African Americans to the city was increasing, lured by the promise of freedom and opportunity denied to them in Jim Crow's last, desperate days. Instead they were welcomed by white flight, residential segregation and deindustrialization; rising racial tension, ghettoization and joblessness was a recipe for disaster which erupted in the 1967 rebellion. In addition to dollar loss this of course kicked white flight into high gear resulting in the loss of much of the city's tax base. Throw in the oil shocks of the early 70s and their influence on changing consumer requirement and the failure of the auto industry to adapt and you had a city that needed a saviour but instead got no succour.

It's no coincidence that Detroit's decline coincides with that of America as the US had the most wealth for the parasite of neoliberalism to feed off and Detroit was its richest and most vulnerable city. Back in 1960, GM was not only the city's but the nation's largest employer and paid an average hourly wage of $50 in today's dollars, including health and pension benefits; today Walmart has assumed the mantle and pays $8.81 and a third of the workers work less than 28 hours a week and don't qualify for benefits. The ratio of CEO-to-worker pay has ballooned more than 1000% since 1950, from around 20 to 1 to over 200 to 1 (1,795 to 1 at JC Penney). Not only that but the highest tax rate faced by those CEOs was 91%; today it's under 40%. It was those CEOs at the big 3 who made the decisions that sped the demise of Detroit (GM’s Geo Metro 40 miles/gallon for $9,740 in 1991; today GM offers the Volt for $39,145 that requires you to plug it in AND put gas in it to only get 37 miles/gallon) aided and abetted by the neoliberal policies of maintaining short term growth at the cost of long term prosperity. Specifically, it was the financialization of the economy, the pursuit of 'free trade' policies and the war on drugs which sealed the fate of the city.

Neoliberalism is predicated on decreasing the individual's reliance on the state thus increasing their initiative to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. The problem is it is impossible for those mired in poverty to do this when they don't even have any shoes - ie. education, healthcare, adequate nutrition, employment opportunities. Meanwhile, those with closets already overflowing with footwear have their shoes shod whenever they need it. Er, let's try to explain that a bit better starting with the election of Ronald Reagan and the belief that income inequality was a prerequisite to growth. Not only was it seen to provide incentive to work harder but it raised the savings rate at the top and as the rich have a lower marginal propensity to consume than the poor it would therefore accelerate investment. Additionally, demand for new products almost always emerged from among the rich and it was them alone who could afford the cost involved in research and development thus enriching them should augment innovation. In 1981, the Budget Reconciliation Act along with the Recovery Tax Act introduced across the board tax cuts favoring the redistribution of income to the rich, deregulated monopolistic industries and began the war on the poor by reversing many of the social gains made over the previous 50 years. The shooting war, however, came with his war on drugs.

War (What's it Good for?)
Sometimes numbers are staggering enough on their own and require no explanation. When the explanation is every bit as distressing, well, then you've got the American prison industrial complex. Only China comes close to the US in prison population and only Russia approaches them in percentage of the population incarcerated. Though only comprising 5% of the world's population, the US has 25% of the world's prisoners, about 1% of the population is trapped in the system and the total number has increased 700% since 1970. Yes, it's been a booming industry that's seen $300 billion spent since 1980 to expand the prison system. Not only does it provide employment for the gatekeepers, it reduces the eligible workers counted in the unemployment rate. The poor, worth almost nothing to our corporate masters on the streets, can generate revenues of $30-$40 thousand a year behind bars. Unsurprisingly, almost half of federal prisoners are in for drug related offenses. The bipartisan love of war is illustrated by Clinton's signing of the crack cocaine sentencing guideline bill which targeted the poor black community by making crack cocaine convictions exponentially longer than those for powder cocaine. It gets even worse when you realize it was the CIA who introduced crack into inner-cities to fund waging war in Central America. Prison privatization has brought the market into play with the law while prison labour is a pretty attractive alternative for those looking for a, um, captive work force.

We shouldn't ignore that more traditional method of sacrificing the money and lives of the poor for the glorification and enrichment of the wealthy. Much like neoliberalism, the idea that war is good for the economy and therefore beneficial is a societal sickness that has been perpetuated by myth makers who mysteriously profit from this delusion. Here we should pause once again to consider the suicidal tendency involved in believing that GDP growth is a good thing. Did you know for example that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill added about $300 to the average Americans income? The bloated prison system adds about $125. The US medical system isn't the most expensive in the world (while getting worse results than most of the 'advanced' economies) because they like having millions die for lack of basic care (we hope), but because it adds more zeroes to the bottom line and GDP. Add in a bit of conspicuous consumption, insanely priced education and the trillions wasted on war and suddenly it's pretty easy to understand why even though the size of the US economy has doubled since 1970, overall well-being has declined. Reagan pumped up the gravy train flowing from the public to the private purse, Bush the elder began the family tradition of bombing Iraq, Clinton, though he oversaw a reduction in military spending still indulged in some explosions, Dubya, yeah, he almost doubled the amount spent to kill people and Obama has put a smiley face on murder by remote control.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered
It was Bush the elder who got the NAFTA ball rolling and kept the Uruguay Round of trade talks alive but it was Clinton's signature that brought NAFTA and the WTO to life and sealed Detroit's doom. The agreement turned North America into a 'free' trade continent which Clinton promised would promote "more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment, and a greater possibility of world peace". Oh, and it would create 200,000 jobs. Well, he was only a little over a million off as a report by the Economic Policy Institute documented that 879,280 jobs were "displaced" due to the deal. Thanks to it and other free trade deals pushed on the public to promote growth, the exciting game of labor arbitrage has been played for the past few decades, a game always won by big business as profits are padded at the expense of labor as salaries are slashed and jobs outsourced. While employment protections are rarely included in these deals, NAFTA provided a template for investor protections which effectively remove sovereignty from signing states.When you wonder why neither the public nor your government can ban Monsanto crops to prevent the loss of agricultural diversity or Bayer from killing the bees we depend on for pollination or Chevron from poisoning the water table by fracking you'll be sure to find a clause in one of the corporate written free trade deals one of your governments sold to you as necessary for economic growth.

As mentioned a few hundred paragraphs above, it's rarely those on the throne making the decisions; therefore, its the stories of those who do that make for the grist in this modern day cautionary tale. Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin was one such Grima Wormtongue. Time Magazine would have us believe he was part of the Committee to Save the World (that's him on the left) when his face should have instead been pasted on a wanted poster. See, the crowning blow in this whole story was the financialization of the economy, a process that has allowed the illusion of economic growth to continue by simply feeding off existing wealth and borrowing from the future. For his service in the creation of the TBTF, TBTJ (too big to fail, too big to jail) bank, he was paid $126 million by the same financial institution whose very existence his policies made possible, Citigroup. Clinton's signing of both the Rubin championed Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which repealed Glass-Steagall which had kept gambling separate from banking, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act which prevented the regulation of financial derivatives delivered the coup de grace for Detroit and the rest of us leading us as they did directly to the 2008 financial crisis.

A spike in prices at the pump killing demand for the SUVs that had temporarily saved them combined with the financial crisis bankrupted two of the three Detroit automakers, GM and Chrysler. The same crisis collapsed the Ponzi scheme run by banks that relied on a constant stream of new mortgages to be bundled and securitized and left millions homeless. As this predatory lending targeted African Americans, both Detroit and its residents were among the hardest hit. With an ever-shrinking tax base to support an immutable city infrastructure, budgetary problems have plagued Detroit for the last 20 years. Besides a brief respite in the mid-90s when it was falsely believed that new casinos and stadiums could reverse the city's fiscal problems, the city has been burdened with a junk debt rating. In an attempt to balance the budget, the combination of rising taxes and cuts in services drives out residents and businesses while the erosion to basic social services leads to a drop in home values and rising crime. Desperate politicians become an easy mark for the wizards of Wall Street who seem to offer a way out, and besides, when the bills come due they'll most likely be out of office. While the sheer audacity of the fleecing of Detroit is dwarfed by that of Alabama's Jefferson County bankruptcy tale courtesy of JP Morgan, Detroit could have done without a $2.7 billion bill for borrowing $1.4 billion in 2005 thanks to bankster interest rate swaps and derivatives.

Here's where the morality tale gets good. This financing deal was needed to fill a gap in the city's defined benefit pension funding, the kind that provide a guaranteed annual income after retirement. Public employees paid for those pensions with lower wages while working; n other words they accepted less then to get some later. But get this: governments consistently underfund their pension plans. In Detroit, the gap's about $3.5 billion, but nationwide all levels of government are about $1 trillion short. Not so bad, as Paul Krugman would have us believe, until you consider to come up with this figure necessitates an 8% average return on invested pension assets. D'oh! Not that whole growth thing again. It gets worse. Listening or reading to much of the MSM hype (always stating the $9.2 billion shortfall which includes unfunded health care obligations) one could easily get the impression that there is a movement afoot to convince the public these pensioners are greedy bastards who don't deserve a dime. The bankruptcy process will determine which creditors get paid back and in what order, pension plans justifiably fear they may fall to the bottom of the pile, because you know, society thinks giving $19,000 a year to someone who picked up garbage his whole life isn't as important as paying off banks and hedge funds.

There's the rub. It's true. Go read the comment thread on any article about the Detroit bankruptcy and you'll soon see that Joe Sixpack has been convinced that bailing out banks is/was good as they add to the economy while pensioners are bad as they subtract. They wouldn't consider the continuing bank bailout, as in the quantitative easing program that sees the Fed give banks $85 billion a month in interest free green pieces of paper in exchange for other pieces of paper, could pay off Detroit's debt four times over each month. Nor do they see anything bizarre about a city entering bankruptcy subsidizing a billionaire's hockey team's arena that will see the city pick up almost half of the $650 million tab because corporate welfare is called market incentives and I'm sure that the money sucked out of schools, parks and you know, quality of life things to build Ford Field for the Lions and Comerica Park for the Tigers in the past dozen years has worked out great; a bunch of spanking new stadiums for those who fled to the suburbs and therefore not paying for them  to come in to the city and enjoy while the only chance to see the inside for those paying for them will be if they're selling foam fingers and foamy beers.

Money (That's What I Want)

The press reports unemployment is falling, which is true, but the warped measurement is meaningless as employment isn't rising enough to even keep up with population growth. It's not just an insufficient number of jobs, it's the kind of jobs being created; the low-paying, menial, dead end sort without any benefits. In fact, 60% of the jobs lost during the recession were classified as mid-wage while 58% of the job gains since are low-wage. This wage suppression is great for companies like WalMart who get to have their workforce subsidized by the government as most of their worker earn so little they often qualify for government assistance; tax payers pay on average almost $1 million per store. All this means wealth is flowing up at an ever-increasing rate; 121% of the income gains since 2009 have gone to the 1% (yes it's possible as they've scooped a portion of the rest of the population's pie) while corporate profits are at all-time record levels and wages are at all-time lows. Zooming out from America, the wealth gap between countries is also widening, globally the richest 300 people own more wealth than the poorest 3 billion; the richest 1% have accumulated some 43% of the world's wealth, while the bottom 80% of the planet's inhabitants have just 6% between them. Guess which group is stashing up to $32 trillion in tax havens, effectively removing wealth from circulation.

Cognitive dissonance seems to be hiding the realization that the American Dream is dead, at least in the old idea of each successive generation living better than the previous. This is because neoliberalism is great at pumping up bubbles upon which the rich float while the rest sink with the pop; it's no longer true that a rising tide lifts all boats. Privatization, deregulation, globalization, robotization, computerization and financialization have transformed western capitalism from industrial to financial. In other words we've moved from a system which produced nothing in itself but derived profit from the value created by the exploitation of labour to a system that simply squeezes profit out of existing assets. The former system was able to thrive using the old panem et circenses gambit but with the latter, present system, eventually they'll be no more crumbs to toss to the masses. Suicide rates are already skyrocketing among baby boomers as economic insecurity pushes people over the edge and now their pensions are being circled by the sharks. Meanwhile the young face the choice of fighting for a job at McDonald's or going to university so they can add to the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt and cross their fingers they can get an unpaid apprenticeship position when they're done.

Instead of realizing we're all in this together though, those manipulating puppetmasters will pull our strings using the old techniques of, among many others, media manipulation (I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine), fear (terrorists!), divide and conquer (it's those greedy unions and pensioners!), patriotism ('Murica, F#ck Yeah!) and of course debt servitude to maintain control of the flock. Lockeed was bailed out because they build stuff to blow people up, Chrysler's been bailed out a couple of times, GM once, they build Godcars don't you know, the airlines had to be because of, you know, terrorism and the banks, well, without the banks, we know the whole world as we know it would have ended. What about New York City's bailout in 1975? Well, that's different than Detroit, because, well, it would create moral hazard this time, or something. What's that? What about Mexico? No, they didn't bailout Mexico in order to save face after NAFTA was signed, did they? Yep. But not Detroit.

Solutions? Well, there's a few out there. The first step, however, is the realization that we're doing it wrong. An economy based on debt (issued by bankers, not government) inevitably collapses on itself. Henry Ford himself said "[i]t is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning". New money is continually lent into existence at the push of a button so that existing debt can be repaid, but by necessity there is always more debt than money to pay it back. The dog chasing his tail leads to the need for infinite growth, an impossibility on a finite planet thanks to our enemy of diminishing returns, entropy. We've got to realize we already have enough known oil and gas reserves to kill ourselves and stop exploiting tar sands, shale gas and the Arctic. We need to refuse to pay a 280,000% markup for our most important resource, water. The purpose of economic policy shouldn't be to stimulate growth but to facilitate life. A transition to a steady state, non growth economy must eventually occur, the question is do we want to move that way gradually of our own choice or have it (or far worse) foisted upon us by the inevitable collapse of the system.

Alternatives to the constant drum beat of growth have been proposed such as Bhutan's Gross National Happiness, the New Economics Foundation's Happy Planet Index, and the Social Progressive Imperative's Social Progress Index. No growth or steady state economic policies need to be explored if we want to get off our suicidal treadmill. Perhaps once the US has been knocked off its perch atop the global GNP rankings by China sometime in the next decade we'll finally de-emphasize its importance. The chant of 'We're #2!" just doesn't have the same allure. America will still lead in such prestigious areas as anxiety disorders, obesity (well, Mexico might have passed them), incarceration rates, small arms ownership, health care cost, and energy use. Huh, taken together with the other effects of Detroit's problems mistaken for its cause, such as that 50% literacy rate and other societal diseases prevalent in America, one can make a case for simply finding a way to better spread the wealth than grow it. It seems we should take a lesson from the extreme wealth of Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe and extreme poverty of most of Detroit co-existing in an urban metropolitan area. Yes, in fact if I remember right there's a chart that shows the relationship between income inequality and an index of health and societal problems constructed by a couple of epidemiologists. Yeah, perhaps we should look at this a little closer, or maybe we'll save that for next time.