Rachel Carson’s landmark book “Silent Spring” was published in 1962. It, alone, of the important environmental best-sellers of that era, had a significant impact: it led to the banning of DDT (at least in the Western world) and major shifts in agricultural practice.
Paul Ehrlich, a noted American biologist, best known for his warnings about the consequences of population growth and limited resources, was the author of a famous book “The Population Bomb” (1968), in which he claimed (as Malthus had claimed in 1798) that increasing population – demographic catastrophe — would inevitably outstrip food and resources, and that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s.
The United States may not be the most admired country in the world today, as once it was. But the economic decline of the US is still capable of doing much harm outside its borders as well as internally. Part of the underlying problem is an extremely unrepresentative government system of the US. Congress is currently dominated by entrenched special interests – “big money” — that want to preserve the status quo. This reality makes it very difficult for the executive branch to function day-to-day, still less respond creatively to new challenges.
There is a weak economic recovery under way. It is weak because most OECD governments have been persuaded by conservative economists that government debt is now much too high and that government deficits have to be cut by cutting welfare spending. As a direct consequence of austerity policies, unemployment is still too high, especially when under-employment and “drop outs” are taken into account. Youth unemployment is bad in the US, worse in Europe (except Germany) and truly terrible in the Mediterranean countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal). Meanwhile, economic inequality has been growing , most workers (except the top 10 percent) have static or declining incomes, but corporate profits have soared. Corporations, especially the “tech” companies of Silicon Valley, are sitting on vast hoards of money, stashed mostly in off-shore banks to avoid taxes.
Neo-Keynesian economists, like Paul Krugman, have been saying for years that austerity is a bad idea. They advocate more “stimulus” spending, even at the expense of increasing the government deficits. The problem with that approach, of course, is that there is no visible end to it. Bigger deficits would (will) unquestionably increase the government debt burdens still more in the short run. The problem is that it is not clear why or how growth could cut those deficits in the future.