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Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned

Jeremy Grant, Financial Times
The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

… Mr Walker’s views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure in charge of the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm of the US Congress.
(14 August 2007)

Why is America falling apart? Ask Ayn Rand

Adam Lashinsky, Fortune senior writer
It was the breaking-news headline last Friday that three construction workers had died in a coal-mine accident in Princeton, Ind., and maybe the markets melting down too, that congealed in my mind a thought I’d been kicking around for a while now: Our country is having an “Atlas Shrugged” moment.

Trapped coal miners in Utah, smashed levees in New Orleans, busted steam pipes and flooded subways in New York City, a collapsed bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota, an air-traffic-control system stressed to its break point. Could this really be a description of the most prosperous country on the planet? …

For sensible adults who haven’t thought about Rand and her darkly fabulist novel in years, the thing to remember about “Atlas Shrugged” – other than the cloying mystery, Who is John Galt? – is that the country was disintegrating in front of the eyes of our various capitalist heroes. The rail lines in particular were in peril in this 1957 book, a turgid ode to selfishness nonetheless considered a masterpiece by Rand’s followers, who call themselves Objectivists.
New Orleans: Where’s the money?

In “Atlas Shrugged,” society was falling apart because the elites – read: socialists – weren’t allowing the markets to function. A drumbeat of deadly railroad accidents punctuated and emphasized the calamity.

…Today’s Randians, of course, have an answer to our woes: Privatize everything. No way a bridge falls if a profit-seeking company, properly incentivized, had been charged with maintaining it, goes the argument. That, however, is dangerous thinking. There are certain things the market just can’t be trusted to handle. Imagine that bridge-maintenance company having to cut expenses this quarter by delaying work for just a few days. Imagine how the CEO might feel if the stock would drop if he couldn’t make the quarter.

The markets don’t always work for the public good. Just ask CEOs of mortgage lenders that pushed no-documentation loans, which anyone with common sense knew was just asking for trouble. The solution isn’t to abolish government. It’s to make government work better.
(14 August 2007)

US tumbles down the world ratings list for life expectancy

Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian
A combination of expensive health insurance and an ever-increasing rate of obesity appear to be behind a startling fall by the US in the world rankings of life expectancy.

Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, America has dropped from 11th to 42nd place in 20 years, according to official US figures.

Dr Christopher Murray, head of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said: “Something’s wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries.”
(13 August 2007)

America Loses Its Stature as Tallest Country

Rob Stein, Washington Post
Pundits often opine that America’s stature is declining on the global stage. It turns out that Americans — literally — are not standing as tall, compared with the rest of the world, as they used to.

U.S. adults lost their position as the tallest people on Earth to the Dutch, who average about two inches taller than the typical American. In fact, American men now rank ninth and women 15th in average height, having fallen short of many other European nations.

…”We conjecture that perhaps the western and northern European welfare states, with their universal socioeconomic safety nets, are able to provide a higher biological standard of living to their children and youth than the more free-market-oriented U.S. economy,” Komlos wrote in one of his latest papers, published in June in the journal Social Science Quarterly.
(13 August 2007)
UPDATE (Aug 15). Just added.