“Today, selfishness and hypocrisy reign supreme”

Money in politics has eroded morality, decency and humanity in U.S.: professor 

December 25, 2020 - 12:14

TEHRAN – A professor of international business at the George Washington University says “money in politics has eroded morality, decency and humanity” in the United States.

In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, Hossein Askari says, “Lying and cheating are tolerated as long as they emanate from one’s own party, it is tribalism to the max.”

The professor agrees with the view that slavery in the U.S. has been transformed into something more palatable to those in power.

“Capitalism, whatever it preaches, has become akin to a religion in the United States.”Noting that this is “servitude,” Askari says the U.S. is now “adrift”.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: In just a few words, how would you characterize the prevailing situation of the United States?

A: Moral decay, poverty amidst grotesque wealth, unjust, divided and politically dysfunctional, with dwindling allies around the world.

Q: Where are America’s fault lines? What are its problems?

A: I came to the United States as a student in 1963. I had no intention of staying after my graduation, but I liked what I saw and stayed. I found it a caring country. A country where I could say what I wanted. A country where most people had a reasonable chance of succeeding. I say most because racism was, and still is, alive although minorities have made gains. A tolerable inequality of wealth and income at the time. Politicians with respect for political differences and norms of behavior willing to compromise in support of the national interest. After WWII, along with building an empire under the radar around the world, the United States was still generally giving something back to the rest of the world and standing up for human, if not for political, rights.

“For how can moral men or women be complacent when a few have untold wealth while millions stand for hours outside food banks for their next meal?”

But what I admired then has been slowly eroded. I cannot begin to reconcile the United States of today with what I saw in 1963. Today, selfishness and hypocrisy reign supreme. For how can moral men or women be complacent when a few have untold wealth while millions stand for hours outside food banks for their next meal? And others have to decide between buying food or medicine for their family? In those days, the tax structure was highly progressive, with the highest marginal tax rate at 91% compared to today’s 37% coupled with blatant tax dodges such as what is called carried interest for billionaires. Today, a few have a number of opulent residencies while millions are homeless and sleep in the street. In earlier times, the United States could boast that its citizens had more upward mobility than any other country on earth but today that is far from the case with a number of European countries having a higher degree of upward mobility. Hope for a better future was widely held but not today. Politicians appeared to follow some norms of conduct whereas today it is whatever they can get away with. Lying and cheating are tolerated as long as they emanate from one’s own party, it is tribalism to the max, with the general public losing at every turn. There is corruption and even legal corruption where Congress recently passed a tax package that gave a whopping 1.2 trillion dollars to the top 1% richest Americans. 

I could go on and on because the fault lines are many. Money in politics has eroded morality, decency and humanity. And this is supported by an unchecked media that promulgate lies of their political masters. There is no moral compass. America is adrift.

Q: Would changes in the U.S. tax code turn this around?

“Today, a few have a number of opulent residencies while millions are homeless and sleep in the street.”  

A: No. That is necessary but not sufficient. You are correct in assuming that the U.S. tax code, when it comes to both income and inheritance, needs serious adjustment and possibly an added wealth tax. Tax loopholes must be closed. Income tax 
“Today, a few have a number of opulent residencies while millions are homeless and sleep in the street.”  must be made much more progressive. The higher marginal tax rates of the past did not, I repeat did not, deter incentives and hard work. In fact, there were economic growth rates that were higher than what we see today. Inheritance taxes were needed to inhibit the amassing of unbelievable wealth and the power that goes with it being passed down through generations. Unchecked passing of large fortunes is akin to cancer at the foundation of a democratic system and the rule of law. The country needs a serious examination of its income and inheritance tax structure now before more harm is done to future generations. 
But even all this is insufficient for a rebirth of America that I knew.

Q: Is this all a direct result of the capitalist economic system?

A: Let me say that capitalism, whatever it preaches, has become akin to a religion in the United States. Let’s step back in time. The father of the modern economic system and what some call capitalism is Adam Smith. Smith was a man of faith. He believed that a free market system would lead to the most prosperous economy. Today, most economists would agree with this prescription. It is also the system recommended in Islam. But Smith demanded much more than just an unfettered market system. And Islam demands even more than Smith. 

“America has been at war during most of its history. It cannot continue in this way. America should reduce the use of military force and economic sanctions to solicit cooperation from other countries and focus more on social justice than waging costly wars.”
 

While Smith recommended a free market system, he realized that that the market needed supervision and enforcement to avoid monopolies, market failures and other impediments to its performance. Smith also believed that for sustained prosperity it was essential that everyone be given a reasonable opportunity to develop their talents. Well that’s what is absent in America. Americans do not have similar opportunities for access to education, healthcare and nutrition. The system is rigged in favor of rich white citizens. The wealthy get better opportunities while black Americans and other minorities suffer. But this dual system, favoring one group over the other, is also reflected when it comes to treatment by the police and the judicial courts. It is rapidly becoming a powder keg.

Q: This all sounds like slavery has been transformed into something more palatable to those in power, what do you think?

A: Yes you could put it that way, for how else can you classify a society where humans must have a good job before they can get access to healthcare? Isn’t this a human right? To say nothing of having access to food, shelter and education. Yes, in my opinion, America of today forces individuals to take whatever job they can get in order to secure healthcare for themselves and their family. This is servitude pure and simple.

Q: How long would it take to put the United States back on a more enlightened path and what would it take?

A: The answer to this question would take many books. So let me be very brief and say what I think is the most crucial element in the U.S. and in other countries. The country will get on the right path. That is when Americans change. When individuals attach importance to having a country where there is trust and cooperation. When individuals don’t only consider their own selfish welfare but also the welfare of others. Let this sink in. Such a change in people will take decades.

Q: Has the Trump era made the positive change all the more difficult?

A: The short answer is yes. The country was already feeling the pain from some of these forces. Trump found a troubled country, exposed the country’s problems for all to see and went on to make matters worse by throwing fuel on the fire. In the process, Trump divided the country. Americans are now pitted against Americans. Americans will have a very difficult time coming together and trusting each other to solve the growing problems the country faces.

Q: Does Biden’s more diversified cabinet address many of the problems we have discussed?

A: Biden is focused on presenting a cabinet that shows diversified faces but will this do much to address the underlying problems? Not necessarily. Different races and different sexual orientations may better represent what America is but does it lead to needed change? No. It is a deep understanding of the issues and the determination to push through policies that address them.

Q: Is the United States following the path of other fallen empires, with its best days over and now the inevitable decent?

A: I think so. It may take many decades but I am afraid so. It takes decades to build trust in a country. Trust and cooperation are essential to national success. America has dissipated trust. It will be hard to get it back.
For a more solid foundation for recovery, the country must face its two original sins. The treachery against native Americans and the introduction of slavery and its horrors. Americans from a young age must be exposed to more honest textbooks and discussion of these two sins that underlie social unrest. 

Also, internationally, the U.S. is not admired as it was in the past. America has been at war during most of its history. It cannot continue in this way. America should reduce the use of military force and economic sanctions to solicit cooperation from other countries and focus more on social justice than waging costly wars.
 

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