13 Clues America is Moving Toward Third-World Social and Economic Status

Kent Comfort
13 min readOct 31, 2023

National obesity crisis –

If you take a quick moment to do a search on what the American obesity statistic is as a percentage of the population, you will learn that it has climbed over 40%. Forty percent! And still climbing to heights yet to be known.

We can fret and worry about the impact of this on the nation, and every point you want to list is probably quite true. For example, it has and will continue to have an impact on the expense and quality of healthcare for all of us. We are all carrying the burden and cost of the obesity crisis no matter what our personal physicality may be. And psychological issues abound with respect to self-image and self-worth. I will not attempt a comprehensive list here, but you understand the point I am touching on.

I have no faith or hope that public service ads, laughable attempts at legislative policy making, and so forth have any potential to reverse this devastating trend. That has never worked for social issues of this or any other nature. What may be more productive in efforts to unmask this issue would be to decode it in a manner that reveals how it is fed and perpetuated.

It is not all that long ago in American social history that this was not a problem in any form. What has changed in our national dietary habits and access to nourishing foods that has contributed to our current state? Several things, actually. We have allowed our soils to be polluted and corrupted with countless chemicals that affect the nutritional value of food crops in the interest of increasing production volume and corporate profits. We have allowed hormone content in meat and dairy production to become a standard in our foods. We have a huge fast food industry that serves food from recipes that are loaded with addictive content such as sugar, sodium and unhealthy fats. We have a growing population of people living at poverty levels who eat processed foods and junk foods as a regular daily diet. We have food deserts in inner city neighborhoods that add to the difficulty of those residents having access to healthy diet options. All of these facts, and more, guarantee that the obesity crisis is going to be on the rise for the foreseeable future in America.

Is it accurate to state that the national obesity crisis in America could be regarded as the proverbial canary in the coal mine? Can we recognize it as an important indication of a declining society and social condition?

Increasingly unaffordable access to higher education options –

NYU professor Scott Galloway says it as well as anyone I have heard speak on this issue. He frames cost of college education in America in terms of the return on investment ratio. Professor Galloway is 59 years old as of this writing. He attended UCLA in his youth and calculated the ratio between the cost of earning his college degree and the lifetime earnings it prepared him to secure at 60 to 1. His peers in his time can earn 60 times more than the cost of going to school on an annual basis. He states that today, that ratio has shrunk to 3 to 1. That is devastating to the national economy.

There is no rational or ethical explanation to this gross distortion in earnings power for people who make the choice to invest in their future at institutions of higher learning. The long-term damage this will cause to the American economy and opportunities to build wealth are yet to be in full view, but it stands to reason it will lead to world status declining precipitously. There is no denying that fact.

Access to medical and health maintenance services –

The Affordable Care Act was not a game changer. We would do well to stop denying that reality. It did not move the needle in a positive direction enough to make any claims about finding solutions to the runaway train of medical costs to American citizens.

Costs continue to escalate in all medical sectors. Hospital stays, pharmaceuticals, procedures performed by physicians, and long-term care for the elderly are more costly than ever. Not only are there large numbers of Americans with no medical safety net, most of them live in poverty and consequently put a disproportionate amount of strain on the system. One of the results of these problems is a decline in America’s standing in the developed world, because we are so far behind all other developed countries. They figured this social problem out a long time ago and have solved it for their citizens.

All other developed nations recognize healthcare as a public right and obligation of the government to assure the equal distribution of services and access. America simply sees it as just another capitalist business category.

Suicide rates and their demographic breakdown –

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide

The above link is from the National Institute of Mental Health division of the National Institute of Health. You can see from the charts provided in this report that suicide is on a spectrum of continuous rise since 1999. We know that the most prevalent reason for committing suicide is hopelessness and despair. On an annual basis, an increasing number of Americans are deciding the future holds nothing of value for them and they are voluntarily checking out.

Perhaps one reason the suicide crisis is so worrisome is that no one wants to talk about it. Occasionally, there will be a passing comment about it in some media outlets. However, it is not presented as a discussion topic to be analyzed. It is very difficult to address an issue that is kept in the dark. Certainly, suicide is not a pleasant topic to talk about.

Families who have lost members to suicide are very reluctant to talk about it, and even tend to keep that item of their history secret as much as possible. It is a very painful event and experience to recall and process. Some victims may not even know where to go and who to talk to. After all, it is not an option to ask the one who took their own life why they did it. Even a note left behind often does not adequately resolve the reason for and pain incurred from the event.

As you read my comments about suicide, do they make you uncomfortable? Would you prefer I just move on to the next item on my list? I don’t blame you. But I believe the increase in the number of suicides in all age groups nation wide is another indicator of the declining social and cultural health of a country. According to a source on Wikipedia, the United States has the highest general population suicide rate of any developed nation in the world. Yet another undesirable category where we are number one!

Increasing gap between wealth and poverty –

Unlike the rising national suicide rate, the topic of economic inequality is widely discussed at this time, by most media outlets, in newly published books, on podcasts, and probably gatherings of friends in coffee groups as well. It is probably safe to say that discussing this topic is tantamount to talking about the weather. Everyone can talk about it, but no one knows what to do about it if they are not happy about it.

It is also safe to presume that those who are at the top of the wealth spectrum are not worrying about how to look for ways to intentionally become less wealthy. I have several very rich friends and acquaintances. I have never heard any of them say they were just too damn rich, and they need to do something about it. Actually, they prefer not to talk about it at all.

History teaches those of us who want to learn from it that no society or culture in the history of the world has survived when the disparity between wealth and poverty became extreme. Logic shows that this is an unsustainable circumstance because, to quote Paul Wellstone, a past US senator, “We all do better when we all do better.” And when the opposite of that is prevalent, the flow of commerce and wealth eventually clogs up and major social disruption results. This can manifest in many ways, such as complete upheavals in government systems, civil wars, and the collapse of financial markets and mechanisms, to name a few. It is safe to say that we are at an inflection point in the US where change will happen regarding this issue and it will be unstoppable.

I am not optimistic that the federal government will address this in any meaningful way because the legislative bodies and policy makers are intoxicated by their own strata and their vision is clouded by their personal wealth. Brace yourself. The trail will be very bumpy ahead.

Pathological fear of the future by “conservatives” –

On a recent “Making Sense” podcast hosted by Sam Harris, his guest Antonio Garcia-Martinez shared some shocking statistics about the January 6 US Capitol insurrection. The mob that attacked our government institutions was not made up of the population demographic many of us assumed. If you are like me, you thought this crowd of rowdies was mostly unemployed, struggling to get by people who were acting out their anger at the system in general. That was not the case. Company CEOs, business owners, educated professionals from legal, medical, and financial sectors of our economy were substantially represented. The economically and socially oppressed portion amounted to less than 10% of the total, according to post event statistics.

Why would a group of older white men who were actually economically advantaged put their personal wellbeing at risk by participating in such an act? The answer is because they are driven by fear. They believe their way of life and all they have worked for is being jeopardized by a growing list of imaginary threats. These threats can all be summarized by one major factor. That factor is the color of the skin of the fastest growing population demographic in the nation. These middle age white men think they are going to lose their status and position in society and the only way they can preserve it is to fight against it violently.

They are right that they are becoming a minority, because technically, they already are. Is it not too far-fetched to say that America has its own version of apartheid?

Fear based rejection of the “other” –

First, who is the “other”? The other is anyone who does not look like us, or speak our national language fluently, or fit neatly into our personal and cultural norms. We do not want to know them, nor are we willing to welcome them into our communities. As mentioned in the previous section, we see them as a threat to our national homeostasis that will cause our cultural norms to dissolve into something we do not recognize or understand.

We also refuse to admit and understand that in many cases, we have been complicit in the creation of circumstances that motivate people from other nations to come to our borders and shores for refuge and new opportunity. This is a much different dynamic than what motivated our ancestors to seek a new world and life by coming to America centuries ago. You are likely familiar with the adage, “Karma is a bitch!” Can we admit we are on the receiving end of some serious karma today?

We would do well to let go of our fears of the “other” for several reasons. First, they are already here, and they are not going anywhere. Next, let’s stop denying that America is a nation of immigrants, and remember how fortunate we are that this is the case. And last, no group of immigrants in the history of America was welcomed with open arms and assisted with assimilation into the prevailing culture. We just do not do that well. We would do well to calmly embrace the changing social homeostasis in process and become a part of it instead of resisting it.

Democracy and voting rights under assault –

As I am writing this commentary, this issue is front and center in the news cycles. Of course, we know this will not last. Nothing lasts in the American news cycle much beyond a week or two. Our attention spans are barely that long, and we generally do not know how to become proactive with such important issues on a national scale.

I have lost track of all the states that are working hard to undermine and restrict voting conventions in order to ensure that the minority party can control and win elections. The states that are pursuing this nefarious intention are all controlled by only one of the two primary national parties, that being the Republicans. This kind of blatant interference with the will of the majority is dangerous.

How dangerous? One has only to study the consequences of similar acts in other countries. Sadly, the countries on record for this kind of conduct are what we refer to as banana republics and undeveloped nations. When common people muster an uprising against authority figures who attempt to control and oppress them, thousands of people die, social systems collapse, and property and collateral damage is apocalyptic.

This issue is arguably at the root of the preservation of our sovereignty. The need to intervene and take measures to protect majority rule at all levels of governance is beyond preference. It is vital.

Willingness to allow demagogues to access seats of power –

Does demagogue qualify as an onomatopoeia word? If not, it has to be close! The 45th president of the nation invoked the use of demagogue as a favored description of himself and several other occupiers of power positions. Notice I am striving to avoid using the term “leader” because these people do not honor that word. Demagogue has not been part of the national lexicon to describe people in power positions in my lifetime.

Today, this description is applicable for elected and appointed officials on nearly every level, including local municipal governments, and state and national office holders. Most of us are alarmed about the fact that these people have the admiration and support of far too much of the population. And even more disconcerting, there are those who publicly claim they are advocates, but privately despise these people. Their open support is purely for their personal gain at the expense of all others and the nation itself.

It can also be said that the use of demagogue as a descriptor is hyperbole and this lets the corporate media off the hook for fourth estate related responsibilities to inform and protect the public.

Normalizing of rampant political corruption –

A very long article could be written about this item alone. To start with, a lot of what we regard to be acts and practices of corruption are entirely legal! How did that happen? And what can we possibly do about something that, although harmful and damaging, is not against any statutes or regulations? One example that the Supreme Court passed is the Citizen’s United act, which is an Orwellian name for allowing unlimited political donations from corporations. It has absolutely nothing to do with the unification of American citizens whatsoever. One does not have to be a lawyer to understand how ripe for corruption this statute is. Even though this should qualify as criminal, there is no legal option to attack it on that framework.

During the term of the 45th president, may high ranking officials were reported frequently in the news for performing an action or making a decision that was clearly recognized to be grossly unethical, but again technically not illegal. Skilled criminals are very skilled at doing nefarious things that avoid legal actions.

Other far too common revelations exposed in the media related to unethical conduct by elected official, often pertaining to sexual harassment, and misuse of resources regarded to be in the public trust. There have been too many examples to list here. Threats were made to conduct full investigations. These investigations generally led nowhere, and quietly died in process. The media outlets moved on to new and more titillating events in order to maintain public interest. Also, the legality, or illegality of actions frequently was never established.

We know that a constant media diet of corrupt conduct becomes normalized over time, meaning that we become numbed to the sheer volume and frequency of it until we lose interest in seeing anyone held accountable or any form of correction administered.

Declining birthrates and life expectancy for Americans –

It has been in the news cycles recently that American birth rates have declined below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per family. The long-term consequences of this deeply impact the nation. Combine this fact with the decline in average life expectancy, and you have a shrinking population.

If immigrants are unwelcome and efforts continue to reduce the flow of them into the country, the result is an inevitable economic decline on all levels. The consequences of these two critical indicators can be studied in other developed nations in the world due to the fact that they have been dealing with demographic and population shifts for some time already.

No laws or public policies can effectively address the changes in birthrates and longevity. Trends of this nature are a measure of national confidence in the future. We are witnessing the erosion of that confidence today.

Guns, guns, guns…. –

Every item in this commentary up to this point is critically important. But this one is huge! It has recently been reported that there are over 330,000,000 “registered” guns in America at this time. That is certainly not the total of guns, but only the registered units. Contrast this statistic with the following one. And that is only 20% of Americans are gun owners. You read that right! There are enough guns registered for every man, woman and child to own one, but one in five citizens own all the registered guns. That calculates to five guns per person, but that is also not the case, because many of that 20% number has only one firearm. This is not a good trend! And the rest of the developed world just shakes their collective heads when they contemplate the American fascination with gun possession.

We have become weary from the constant flow of reports about mass shooting incidents all over the country. A mass shooting is categorized as an incident where the shooter injures or kills at least three victims. Currently, there is an average of more than one of these incidents per day in America. Even though this has become normalized in our society, thinking about it is still mind-boggling.

We’re №1, We’re №1, We’re №1 !

There are several social conditions in America where we can claim to be number one in the world. They are:

  • Highest percentage of obese citizens
  • Highest average tuition cost for access to colleges and universities
  • Highest per capita cost by a large margin for health care services
  • Highest suicide rates per 100,000 people of all developed nations
  • Most guns in possession of private citizens in the world
  • Most gun related deaths per capita of all developed nations

This is probably not even a comprehensive list for what America can claim to be number one in the world. There is certainly is not an item on this list that would be something to be proud of. Can we do better?

Summation –

I have addressed 13 factors in this commentary that I believe clearly show a worrisome trend direction for America’s future. I am confident readers can think of several more, and some of them may be more critical than what I have included. But I think what I have shared is enough to raise a lot of concern from any socially observant citizen. So, I have to pose the following question in closing. Are we willing and able to do anything at this time to address these concerns?

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Kent Comfort

Kent Comfort is a writer, entrepreneur and podcaster. He enjoys life in the southwest with his wife and their cocker spaniel.