When I was a child, I loved to come to Charlotte to visit Aunt Nina and Uncle Carl. Their place was in the country, and we spent most of our time in the woods, but the biggest city I had ever seen was close by. There were multiple lanes of traffic on the highway coming into town, and Carl worked in a huge skyscraper at what I now know to call Trade and Tryon. When I visited as a child, I didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t even know what to think. Oh, my.
Coming to Charlotte was the closest thing I’d ever had to a cosmopolitan experience. They had a Chinese restaurant in Charlotte! I’d never had anything so exotic, so Nina ordered for me, something she called “sweet and sour chicken.” And one night, sitting at the dining room table, Carl explained “the stock market” to my cousins, Mark and Cary. They were older than I, and they seemed to get it. I never really have.
I remember Carl mentioning the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which, apparently, is an index that shows how 30 large publicly owned companies based in the United States have traded during a standard trading session in the stock market (so says Wikipedia). Apparently it just gained 168 points, and closed at over 23,000, which is an all-time high. Apparently people are pretty excited about this. Apparently this is the measure of our country’s success, because despite all the other indicators, everything must be great. The Dow is at 23,000!
It’s humbling and amazing to recognize that I live in the most financially successful nation in the history of the world; and it’s tragic and defeating to try to help people see how poor we really are, in so many important ways. It’s like we can’t seem to notice or really care about all the problems, because the Dow is at 23,000. Yes, we are still the envy of the world, but increasingly we are lagging behind our neighbors — except for the Dow, which is at 23,000.
Take a look at any recent surveys comparing health and healthcare in the world’s developed nations, and you’ll find that we pay more, and get less, and by many measures we are sicker as a result. But, the Dow is at 23,000.
There’s large agreement that the state of education in the United States is at a frighteningly-low ebb, but instead of banding together, committing to find a way to offer the best education for all of our children, we seem determined to segregate again, more and more, by race and by wealth. As a result, affluent kids go to great schools (which is no guarantee of getting a great education) while poor kids go to poor schools, which pretty much guarantees that they get a poor education. We’re told private and charter schools are the answer, because the Dow is at 23,000.
I’ve quit reading the articles about how many bridges around the country, like the rest of our infrastructure, are in danger of collapse. I’ll just try to enjoy another $5 cappuccino and take my chances. At least the Dow is at 23,000.
We’re killing one another at such a foolish, tragic rate, it’s hard to even fathom. One report, comparing the U.S. to the next 22 high-income nations, shows our gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. The BBC reported that in 2015 there were 372 mass shootings in the U.S., 64 of them occurring in our schools. One estimate puts the total American deaths in all of the nation’s wars, beginning with the Revolutionary War, at about 1.3 million, but estimates that over 1.5 million people have been killed by gun violence — since 1968. But, we’re uniquely blessed by our 2nd Amendment — and by the Dow, which is at 23,000.
In the name of moral rectitude (“do the crime, serve the time”) we have chosen to put more than 1 percent of our total population behind bars. The vast majority of our incarcerated citizens are non-violent offenders, and the movement to increasingly privatize the prison system almost guarantees this statistic will not improve. In counties across the country prisons have become the largest employer, the economic engine, so it’s hard to imagine an incentive to decrease crime. Profitable prisons are part of the reason the Dow is at 23,000.
And the dysfunction of our politics and the debasement of our civility, the division of our citizenry and the disharmony of our religion are at all-time highs, so honest people, and especially people of faith, have to wonder about all this unprecedented success. The Dow is at 23,000, which makes it hard to think about how high it will have to go before we wake up to the real poverty that threatens to bring us all down.