What’s wrong with Americans? Are we stupid? Are we toddlers?

June 20, 2008 | By | 10 Replies More

The list has grown too long to ignore.  We are a country that exercises almost no foresight.  We wait for disasters to occur and only then (if then) does it occur to us to do something about the problem.

Here’s an especially heinous example: our government hires numerous financial experts, of course.  Alan Greenspan was one of them.  Why couldn’t any of them see the subprime disaster long before it occurred?  Instead, our government’s experts allowed unscrupulous mortgage companies to lend out far too much money to homeowners in the form of “exploding ARMs” such that it was entirely predictable that the borrowers would fall behind on their payments after only a few years, and that many would lose their homes through foreclosure.  Our government stood by while these loans were hyper-securitized to the point where the unscrupulous mortgage companies would go belly up, tranch-laden real estate trusts (who ultimately purchased the loans) would throw their hands and claim that they were innocent and Wall Street would laugh all the way to the bank.  That is, until Wall Street failed and successfully begged the federal government to bail out Bear Stearns.  All of this was entirely foreseeable.  The real disaster is that we failed to use our brains.

For another example, think of the Minnesota Bridge collapse. Let’s see… what might happen if you don’t allocate proper federal funding to fund sufficient bridge inspections?  Of course, it’s only after a huge bridge collapses or a major levee breaks that we start thinking about the resulting disasters here in America.

Do you want another example?  There are hundreds.

Remember when our president manufactured the need to go to war and all of the allegedly patriotic people (including many of your neighbors and friends, I’m sure) imposed group-think upon each other?  Voices trying to raise important concerns and objections were muzzled in the name of “freedom.”  What were we thinking?  That we were better off to parrot the President?  What we got is what we deserved: the low point was when Colin Powell lied to the American people, who patriotically nodded affirmatively, encouraged by their patriotic daily newspapers from coast to coast.  In retrospect, who couldn’t see that this type of “patriotic” group-think behavior would endanger our democracy?

Who couldn’t end see the problem with electing, as President of the United States, a man who lied about his military service and who had failed miserably in almost everything he had ever attempted, repeatedly covered up by his family?  What would you expect if you elected such a person to be president?  Why couldn’t we see all of this coming?

And look how we conduct “debates” to evaluate the next president.  They are largely substanceless and xenophobic, relying on soundbites and concocted personal attacks.  Why is it so hard to see that this is a terrible way to evaluate a President?

And why can’t we see that allowing large corporations to pour their money into the coffers of politicians will cause our politicians to do corporate bidding rather than responding to the needs of citizens?  Why is this so hard to anticipate or understand?  The fact that this legalized bribery goes on should be the front page headline in almost every newspaper almost every day.

Why is it so hard to see the natural consequence of running massive budget deficits?  Since 2002, the Dollar has lost 40% of its value compared to the Euro.  This comes as a surprise to some of us, for reasons that are hard to fathom.

Why can’t we see the consequences of allowing the FDA to be taken over by corporate interests?  Why do we then act surprised when largely unregulated pharmaceuticals kill thousands of people?

Consider, too, the quality of our news media.  To many people, it is somehow a surprise that our news media has let us down.  This shouldn’t be a surprise though, not in light of widespread political corruption at the FCC.  What else can you call it when the FCC decides that it exists primarily to serve huge corporate interests?  [There are also heroes at the FCC, including Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Kopp.]

We educate our children through the use of extensive multiple-choice tests, but we expect them to be intelligent. What’s wrong with us?

Water reservoirs are running low in numerous states, including Nevada, North Carolina and Georgia, but we have no long-range solution.  We have no plan, even though many large reservoirs will be bone dry in 2020.

We rely on a precious and diminishing fossil fuel for most of our transportation needs, yet we waste it through ill-conceived urban planning and luxury vehicles that get 10 miles per gallon.  But we couldn’t anticipate any “oil crisis,” not till gasoline shoots up to five dollars per gallon . How can this be?

We live in the permanent present, just like toddlers.  Our track record also proves that we have the foresight of toddlers.  You might as well let a baby drive a truck through a busy intersection.


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Category: American Culture, Campaign Finance Reform, Corruption, Fraud, Iraq, Politics, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (10)

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  1. Yes, staggering isn't it? But be assured, the US is not alone in this. Numerous examples can be found in Holland where I live and all over Europe.

    Just a simple one: Guess what happens when you build houses on flood planes near rivers? Oh dear, oh dear, our houses are being flooded! How can this be?

    BTW, the medieval fortress towns in that area simply dropped in their wooden water barriers + a lot of sand bags and sailed through the problem as they had always done before.

  2. durandal1707 says:

    In a way, I think the social, economic and political architecture of the United States gives rise to (pardon my computer science background) an overall "greedy algorithm" in most decision-making fields. In politics in particular, I find that the rather short terms of congresspeople reinforces this tendency quite effectively – from the moment a representative arrives in D.C., they already have to start making plans for their re-election bids. This leads to votes toward policies that are very myopic and pander to particular representatives' home districts.

    The feedback loops between consumers and corporations, voters and government, etc. produce this rather destructive culture of convenience.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    durandal1707: Thank you for introducing me to the "greedy algorithm." Sounds like it describes toddler behavior (purely local choices) quite well.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    It will get worse. Check out the movie "Idiocracy" if you can find it.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Niklaus: I noticed the Wiki description of Idiocracy at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy and a YouTube excerpt at



  6. grumpypilgrim says:

    As Niklaus mentions, the movie "Idiocracy" is worth watching. Its premise is that "dumb" Americans tend to reproduce relatively early in life (in their teens and twenties) and tend to have more children, whereas "smart" Americans tend to reproduce later (in their late twenties and thirties) and tend to have fewer children. With no predators to "thin the herd," evolution will not necessarily favor the smartest, fastest or otherwise best-equipped of a species (in this case, humans); it will simply favor those who reproduce the most rapidly. Thus, over a span of a few generations, "dumb" Americans will greatly outnumber "smart" ones. Eventually, "smart" Americans will go extinct, and our nation will become an "idiocracy."

    This idea has merit. Consider the fact that America's wealth is becoming concentrated in the hands of an ever-smaller percentage of the population. This might not be just the result of Republican tax policy; it might also be the result of basic evolutionary statistics. If poor/ignorant people reproduce more rapidly than rich/educated ones, and if there is only very limited redistribution of wealth, then wealth will inevitably become more concentrated with each generation. Over time, a smaller and smaller cadre of rich will need larger and larger security forces to protect them from civil unrest. Prisons will fill, police and military spending will balloon, and the rich will increasingly need to rely on propaganda to delude and confuse the masses. Sound familiar?

  7. Alison says:

    Most people seem to be happy to be led around by the nose rather than do all the work it takes to really understand what's going on. I can't tell you how many times I try to educate people who are clearly parroting whatever they heard from Bill O'Reilly, or got in e-mail along with every other person their sister-in-law's boss' best friend knows. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone seriously told me "We have to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here," and when I started to point out how wrong this was, she was so utterly convinced that terrorists could come over here on commercial planes in army-sized numbers with nuclear bombs in their shoes that I gave up faster than I ever have. A letter to the editor in today's paper was a wild-eyed rant on the terrible consequences we were going to face with habeus corpus restored – it looked like a copy-paste job of neocon talking points from someone who'd drunk deeply of the kool-aid.

    Idiocracy is a mediocre execution of a fine idea. There's no question that far too many people are happy with tiny bits of information that have been pre-chewed and regurgitated into their minds. Give them sound bites, easy-to-remember statistics, and prepackaged opinions, and they're happy. If you tell them what they want to hear, they have no motivation to look for additional information or check the veracity of what they're told. People are so used to being sold to, you can sell them almost anything.

    Also, in case anyone might think that all this standardized testing is going to help matters, the truth will out very soon. Kids who've learned to spit back out what they've been told so they can score well on a multiple choice exam are going to be even worse. Critical thinking skills will continue to be eroded, and when these kids are old enough to be called upon to make decisions, they'll be even more likely to make the ones they've been told to make. It's frightening.

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    And we're back to discussing the ideas in Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” or Kornbluths “The Marching Morons”, wherein either the simple (as in short bus) majority rules capable people to be unfairly advantaged, or they are simply massively outnumbered. (I mentioned these stories before: here).

    I had lunch today with a former employer who argued that our energy needs could be met if only we were allowed to drill for oil in wildlife refuges, a solution that he claims McCain promises and Obama rejects. Guess what news station he favors?

  9. Alison says:

    Yeah, because the Exxon Valdez was just a freak accident, easily contained. That's why New Jersey's tourism revenue wouldn't be affected if we allow drilling offshore in Virginia, too. Funny how the solution to oil dependence is never "use less" or "find alternatives", but always "drill for more".

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a basic one for all of those moderate Republicans. Didn't it occur to anyone in power that taking huge amounts of food off the food market (corn) in order to inefficiently make ethanol would cause the price of food to skyrocket? You know, the basic law of supply and demand. This is incredibly disturbing short-range thinking.

    Here's another one for anyone with common sense. I already alluded to it in the post. Don't we need to fix all of those aging bridges? Consider this post by Jared Bernstein on the boring-ness of infrastructure.

    So one reason to make public investments is that if we fail to do so, we'll all be worse off. If our highway system is falling apart — the U.S. Department of Transportation has identified more than 6,000 high-priority, structurally deficient bridges that need to be replaced — if our schools are physically inadequate to the task at hand — in New York City alone, officials have identified $1.7 billion of deferred maintenance projects on 800 city school buildings — we will fail to realize our economic potential, no matter what happens in corporate America.

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