America should not ignore root causes

With the U.S. government’s $85 billion bailout of A.I.G., following the bailout of Fannie & Freddie, which in turn followed the bailout of Bear Stearns’ bad credit, many experts like Columbia U’s Joseph E. Stiglitz have brought back into light the underlying problems in our markets.

Financial crises are nothing new to this nation. Take the 1990s savings and loan crisis that cost the U.S. $124.6 billion. Though the circumstances were different, the end results are the same: bad, risky investments cause big corporations to fall, the Fed bails them out, the CEOs keep their big paychecks and the U.S. taxpayers foot the bill.

This is not a rant about the long-term inviability of our financial market. It is about the great American tendency to ignore the root cause of the problem and instead treat the symptoms, hoping everyone will look the other way.

This tendency affects all the activities that we as Americans engage in on a day-to-day basis: our health, our thirst for oil and the news media are just three of the multitude of broken systems in our time.

Pharmaceutical companies allow us to engage in one of the most detrimental of all these actions: prescription drugs. “Big Pharma” has no reason to cure us of the illnesses that plague our time. By selling drugs that treat the symptoms and keep us happy, we keep coming back for more; and that means more money in their pockets. Getting cured of a problem means but a short burst of income; wouldn’t you rather have those long-term financial guarantees?

Engaging in this sort of conduct jeopardizes the real health of our citizens and only encourages more destructive behavior, both by the companies and by the individual under treatment. The government needs to give “Big Pharma” more incentives to engage in searches for cures, a much worthier use of my taxes.

Another aspect of American culture where we come up short on a fix is our addiction to gasoline. American automobiles have been getting the same gas mileage since the Ramblin’ Wreck was a brand new ride (which was 1930, and it got 25-30 mpg).

If we are ever going to wean ourselves off our dependency on foreign oil, reducing intake is step one. We should not be in a debate in this country over offshore drilling to shore up our dependency on fossil fuels. Propping ourselves up on offshore petroleum simply prolongs the impending plight.

Instead, we should increase funding for public transportation options (subways, busses, and commuter railways). Not only will this lessen the gas bill for your average middle-class family, but you free up time to get things accomplished while you’re not driving, you reduce your carbon footprint, and you dramatically decrease your chance of getting into a fatal traffic accident.

One of the worst of the untreated epidemics is our modern mainstream media. I am referring to the news media, the talking heads of CNN or the front page of the AJC. Think of the recent coverage of the upcoming presidential election. Any time a candidate gives a speech, ten pundits appear on-air and blather on about the strategy of said candidate’s recent actions.

It seems our media is incapable of simply conveying the candidates’ stances on the actual issues. Instead we have devolved into a sort of meta-reporting system; reporting on the reporting, if you will. In part they do this because the candidates are truly so similar it is mildly sickening.

It has become taboo in our supposedly free country to suggest that there is some fallacy in the system upon which we rely for our safety, security, liberty and general well being; and when you do, you’re greeted with cynicism, strange looks and general contempt.

Our great country was founded by men who questioned the why, not just the what, and didn’t stick with tradition just because it had been done that way for a hundred years.

If we as a people do not awaken and fix the underlying causes of the problems that plague us today, we will be far worse off in the future.