It is said that the late economist Milton Friedman was once asked how much money it would take for him to change his position that humans are primarily motivated by greed, which was at the core of Friedman’s free-market fundamentalism. Friedman wisely dodged the question. He understood that if he said he could not be bought, it would undercut his economic theory. In order to avoid undercutting his theory, he would have had to admit that he, like everyone else, had his price.
Barry Commoner died on September 30 at the age of 95. The New York Times called him “a founder of modern ecology and one of its most provocative thinkers and mobilizers in making environmentalism a people’s cause.” Among many accomplishments, his pioneering work on the effects of radiation was a major factor in building public support for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War. Time Magazine put him on its cover in 1970, the first year of Earth Day.
He also ran for president in 1980 on the ticket of the now defunct Citizens Party, an episode few on the left remember and the obituaries dismissed as a quirky personal misadventure. It was more than that. The Citizens Party was an effort to respond to the early signals that the Democratic Party was on the way to becoming morally and intellectually bankrupt. Three decades later, that ugly process is almost complete.
It may barely make a blip on our political radar screen, but on July 1 Mexico is slated to elect a new president for the next six years. Plagued by out-of control violence and chronic poverty, the country is in desperate need of new leadership. Yet holding a commanding lead in the polls is Enrique Peña Nieto, an old-guard candidate of the discredited Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI), which ran the county as a one-party dictatorship for 70 years before being ousted in 2000.
In the eyes of most of the world and in our own, to be an American is to be an optimist—entrepreneurial, positive-thinking, and future-oriented. It is not surprising, then, that our politics has not come to grips with the question of national decline. Yes, our governing elites have long debated America’s power in the world and whether it’s eroding. But about the future of Americans, as opposed to the future of the geopolitical hegemon, America, our most important politicians and pundits have much less to say. Despite the bitter public arguments over tax and budget policies, they share the implicit assumption that even harder times are ahead for the majority of Americans—if not 99 percent then at least 75 percent to 80 percent.