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FBI statistics confirm a dramatic decline in violent crimes since 1991, yet the number of prisoners has doubled over approximately the same period. It's but one sign of a deeply troubling decline. (Photo: PRCJ/file)

Signs of a Dying Society

Paul Buchheit

While Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou are vilified for revealing vital information about spying and bombing and torture, a man who conspired with Goldman Sachs to make billions of dollars on the planned failure of subprime mortgages was honored by New York University for his "Outstanding Contributions to Society."

This is one example of the distorted thinking leading to the demise of a once-vibrant American society. There are other signs of decay:

1. A House Bill Would View Corporate Crimes as 'Honest Mistakes'

Wealthy conservatives are pushing a bill that would excuse corporate leaders from financial fraud, environmental pollution, and other crimes that America's greatest criminals deem simply reckless or negligent. The Heritage Foundation attempts to rationalize, saying "someone who simply has an accident by being slightly careless can hardly be said to have acted with a 'guilty mind.'"

One must wonder, then, what extremes of evil, in the minds of conservatives, led to criminal charges against people apparently aware of their actions: the Ohio woman who took coins from a fountain to buy food; the California man who broke into a church kitchen to find something to eat; and the 90-year-old Florida activist who boldly tried to feed the homeless.

Of course, even without the explicit protection of Congress, CEOs are rarely charged for their crimes. Not a single Wall Street executive faced prosecution for the fraud-ridden 2008 financial crisis.

2. Unpaid Taxes of 500 Companies Could Pay for a Job for Every Unemployed American

For two years. At the nation's median salary of $36,000, for all 8 million unemployed.

Citizens for Tax Justice reports that Fortune 500 companies are holding over $2 trillion in profits offshore to avoid taxes that would amount to over $600 billion. Our society desperately needs infrastructure repair, but 8 million potential jobs are being held hostage beyond our borders.

3. Almost 2/3 of American Families Couldn't Afford a Single Pill of a Life-Saving Drug

62 percent of polled Americans said they couldn't cover a $500 repair bill. If any of these Americans need a hepatitis pill from Gilead Sciences, or an anti-infection pill from Martin Shkreli's company, they will have to do without.

An AARP study of 115 specialty drugs found that the average cost of a year's worth of prescriptions was over $50,000, three times more than the average Social Security benefit. Although it's true that most people don't pay the full retail cost of medicine, the portion paid by insurance companies is ultimately passed on to consumers through higher premiums.

Pharmaceutical companies pay competitors to keep generic drugs out of the market, and they have successfully lobbied Congress to keep Medicare from bargaining for lower drug prices. The companies claim they need the high prices to pay for better medicines. But for every $1 they spend on basic research, they invest $19 in promotion and marketing.

4. Violent Crime Down, Prison Population Doubles

FBI statistics confirm a dramatic decline in violent crimes since 1991, yet the number of prisoners has doubled over approximately the same period.

Meanwhile, white-collar prosecutions have been reduced by over a third, and, as noted above, corporate leaders are steadily working toward 100% tolerance for their crimes.

5. One in Four Americans Suffer Mental Illness, Mental Health Facilities Cut by 90%

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 25 percent of adults experience mental illness in a given year, with almost half of the homeless population so inflicted. Yet from 1970 to 2002, the per capita number of public mental health hospital beds plummeted from over 200 per 100,000 to 20 per 100,000, and after the recession state cutbacks continued.

That leaves prison as the only option for many desperate Americans.

There exists a common theme amidst these signs of societal decay: The super-rich keep taking from the middle class as the middle class becomes a massive lower class. Yet the myth persists that we should all look up with admiration at the "self-made" takers who are ripping our society apart.


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Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

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