If you get your news from network television, you are being bombarded by commercials about prescription medicines and financial services.
These ads typically show prosperous older Americans who look remarkably fit, live in lovely homes, and spend their days cooking gourmet meals, wind-surfing, and flyfishing with their adorable grandchildren.
These advertisements purport to show life in 21st century America--the best of all possible worlds where everyone is healthy, happy, and financially secure.
But I don't live in that America, and you don't either. Instead, most of us live in a society that is remarkably similar to dysfunctional regimes of bygone centuries.
Our government is printing money at a frightening pace to prop up the financial markets, much like the Weimar Republic did in the 1920s. And we know how that turned out. Germany experienced runaway inflation that set the stage for Adolph Hitler.
We may celebrate the fact that the United States abolished debtors' prisons, but 21st century America treats debtors much the way England treated them in the Victorian age.
We don't deport debtors to Australia or put them in jail as England did in Charles Dickens' time, but we've created a virtual prison for student-loan borrowers, millions of whom are trapped in income-based repayment plans that last 25 years. Compounding student-debtors' misery, our supposedly benevolent Congress has made it almost impossible for insolvent student-loan debtors to get relief in the bankruptcy courts.
And the American tax system is remarkably like the tax regime in Louis XIV's France. W.H. Lewis, who wrote a masterful social history of seventeenth-century France, described the French tax structure this way;
[T]he whole fiscal system was in itself radically and incurably vicious; as a contemporary remarks, if he Devil himself had been given a free hand to plan the ruin of France, he could not have invented any scheme more likely to achieve that object than the system of taxation in vogue, a system which would seem to have been designed with the sole object of ensuring a minimum return to the King at a maximum price to his subjects, with the heaviest share falling on the poorest section of the population.
Doesn't that sound like the American tax system? Sure it does. As financial tycoon Warren Buffett has repeatedly observed, he pays federal taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.
And the COVID pandemic didn't change the system at all. Indeed, the latest coronavirus relief package includes 100 percent deductibility for the so-called "three-martini lunch." Think about it: wealthy Americans can write off extravagant meals that can cost more than $1,000, while the working stiff gets a $600 coronavirus-relief check.
In short, although Americans may deceive themselves into believing that our society is evolving into a paradise based on the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion, in fact, we live in a world not so very different from Victorian England, Weimar Germany, and 17th century France.
|Louis XIV: Is everybody happy?|