The Way America Does Business

THERE is general agreement across the ideological spectrum that the U.S. economy is at a crossroads. We live in a time when, as the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci once put it, "The old world is dying, but the new refuses to be born."

Some observers are calling this an era of transition from an industrial to a post-industrial society. Others call it the change from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. Catholic lay theologian and social analyst Joe Holland more bluntly labels the current dislocation part of the shift from a welfare state to a national security state.

Whichever label we choose, and there is truth in all three, there can no longer be any question that fundamental changes are taking place in the way America does business. And those changes have sweeping implications for the daily life of the majority of the American people and inevitably for the rest of the world, too.

The symptoms of historic transition are all around us. The U.S. steel industry, once the backbone of our economy, has all but disappeared. The automobile industry is in serious decline. Official unemployment rates have been above 7 percent for five years now, and people without jobs are staying unemployed for longer periods of time, indicating the long-term nature of the problem. After 40 years of steady increase, the median income for a family of four in the United States has gone down by 16 percent since 1976. Similarly the percentage of Americans living in poverty has been steadily increasing since the mid-1970s to the current 14 percent.

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