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To have and have not.

The Iron Curtain has collapsed and, despite the predictions of Francis Fukuyama regarding the fall of communism, the story isn't over. Facing this fact leads to an obvious question: What will the future bring? Gar Alperovitz, a University of Maryland professor of political economics, says that the United States has hit a critical stage in its evolution.

The first decade of the 21st century, already lacerated by the attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the ensuing war on terrorism, the United States also saw an explosion of economic and social inequality. Nearly 50 million people lack medical insurance while housing prices in many cities have grown so fast that incomes have failed to keep up. The difference between what CEOs earn and what average workers take home has widened enormously. To make things even worse, the George W. Bush administration seems oblivious to society's ills, focusing only on an unpopular war in Iraq while dismantling a series of social services, including Medicare--the medical assistance program for the elderly and disabled--and Social Security. The government meanwhile is tinkering with tax schemes to make things easier on the wealthy.

The tough task of thwarting future terrorist attacks, along with the general climate of dread and fear that arose from the ashes of Sept. 11, has translated into an erosion of civil liberties in the United States, Alperovitz points out. Harping for the need for protection against an invisible enemy, U.S. authorities have undermined traditional rights to either the applause or apathy of a significant portion of the populace. Nevertheless, he writes, people are beginning to tire of it all.

America Beyond Capitalism argues that tensions are getting worse in U.S. society, but the current government is apparently incapable or unwilling to find any solutions. According to Alperovitz, a period of radical change looms large.

What can we expect? Above all else, the author believes that many of the consequences of globalization, including the spread of free trade across the globe, have been painful. Globalization has not only disrupted economies but also has failed to create enough well-paying jobs while promoting democracy. A lot of people are waiting for something better to come along.

Yet the answer is not a black-and-white choice between capitalism and socialism. Those models are largely academic and have never existed in their purest form in any country ever. Alperovitz believes the current U.S. model has created inequalities across society. It no longer carries the promise for quick social mobility and the many other opportunities one would expect from a capitalist system. Now that the Berlin Wall has fallen, times have changed and feelings are different, and today's capitalist system is not the only version of capitalism that is out there. Real change, he writes, doesn't necessarily mean a jump to the extreme opposite of the political spectrum.

Revolution. The big stories in U.S. history--independence from the British crown, the abolition of slavery, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal economic recovery program, the fight against racial discrimination in the 1960s, the Republican revolution of the last quarter of the 20th century (deemed by critics as a revolution waged by the rich against the poor)--generally took place during times when everyone thought things would stay the same forever. Today, a growing number of U.S. citizens are hopping on the bandwagon at local and national levels in calling for a new direction for the country.

Alperovitz doesn't provide many details on what this new direction might be. He does promote a free-market economy but one with greater state regulation. Such a model would capitalize on the United States' great wealth while narrowing the income gap, strengthening democracy and guaranteeing liberties.
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Title Annotation:insurance
Author:Alende, Andres Hernandez
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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