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Zack Exley Headshot

America Stuck on the Couch

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There is an easy way to get every willing American into a satisfying, prosperous living -- well, easy in the sense that it would work, it would be fulfilling, and we'd all have a lot of fun, but difficult in the sense that all of America would have to make some serious sacrifices for a generation... or two.

Have you had a time in your life when you've lain around on the couch and watched a lot of dumb TV? The problem with the progressive half of our current ruling class -- and the reason why they're usually out of power -- is that none of them have ever had a few months, or a few years, when they've lain around on the couch, watching episode after episode of Stargate or Deep Space Nine.

I've had several such years. And that's why I, unlike every other prominent progressive blabbermouth, understand the true nature of America's economic stagnation.

America is stuck on the couch, remote in one hand, bowl of ice cream or beer in the other. I'm not talking about the American people themselves being on their couches. They're working longer, harder hours than people in almost any other industrialized country. It's our whole economy and society that's stuck on the couch, metaphorically. When a big chunk of your life is spent lying on the couch, then you're not learning new skills, not out making connections, not keeping up on what's new in the world. While you're chuckling along with jokes from the '90s, you're missing out on the actual new world developing outside your window.

It's not like you totally give up on yourself. During that mode of life, you measure progress or reversal by whether your cake intake has increased or decreased, whether you've done five more or five fewer push-ups, or whether you decided not to order out for a change. That's where America is today. Newscasters discuss 1-percent increases or decreases in the unemployment rate, interest rate, or foreclosure rate.

When you're stuck on the couch and a hardship hits, you put it on the card. Or, if you're working-class, you go to the payday loan window. But usually it isn't so much a hard time as a confusing situation. Your housemate can't pay the rent and threatens to move back home, facing you with the prospect of replacing him or her with someone new, someone who might actually have a job and think it's lame that you lie around on the couch all the time.

One time, I "needed" a new computer. I thought the book I was "writing" would get finished faster if I had a screen wide enough to show two pages in preview mode next to each other. That's pathetic.

Equally pathetic, but on a much grander scale, was when America desperately believed it needed to keep its biggest and most lucrative private banks both private and lucrative when they would have gone out of business without government help. (I mean, if they weren't running our financial sector, we'd have to find someone else to do it! Can you imagine?) So we charged about $14 trillion (aka $14 million million!) on our national adjustable-rate credit card. Our kids are going to be paying it for a long time.

So that's America today. Every morning, we wake up with a sore back and aching head, sometimes making a feigned attempt to exercise a little, eat some Doritos for breakfast, go to work, and do the same thing we did the thousand previous days -- and finally get back to the couch as soon as humanly possible.

Some other industrialized countries do not live for the couch. They wake up and decide to create a whole new industry in one of their underdeveloped regions. Laptops! Wind power! Ships! Millions of people must be trained. Thousands of miles of roads and rail must be laid. Power, schools, housing! Finally, the factories themselves are built. Tens of millions go from scratching half a living out of clay to making items for which Moscow and Lagos yuppies will pay thousands of Euros.

How do we get America off the couch?

America has super powers. We might be stuck on the couch, but we're like Spider-Man stuck on the couch. Our superpowers are our democratic institutions. The only way some other countries can change is to have a violent revolution, or to simply lapse into chaos for a few centuries until a better configuration finally snaps into place by accident.

But we have elections for every position of state authority every two or four or six years. All that's necessary, thanks to our national super power, is for us to fix on a clear and coherent plan to get off the couch and get back to being truly alive. Then a solid slate of candidates who all agree on that plan can run and get elected and execute that plan, with the support of and accountability to the people.

We are being kept on the couch by our couch-potato ideology. We believe change in our economic situation can only come from gradual, unplanned change. It's sort of the ideology of The Secret. We believe that as a nation it's better to stay on the couch and dream of better days than to go out and directly build them with our own two (or 200 million pairs of) hands. We might fail, after all, if we try. We might inadvertently make our situation worse. Who knows what might happen? That's how we feel about the idea of just going out and building industry -- an idea that is so popular and successful right now in other industrialized countries, and that used to be popular in America. It is, for example, the idea that won World War II.

You see, the great thing about lying on the couch and watching Stargate -- or any pre-21st-century American adventure/sci-fi show -- is that there is a decisive victory in every single episode: a fast, morally unambiguous victory. They win each time without any complex strategy or compromising sacrifice. They simply do the right thing, follow a dogmatic set principals, and everything works out perfectly at the very last minute.

In real life victory doesn't come quick or clean. Maybe it's a matter of rolling back from Stargate and Star Trek to Homer, where victory came, always ambiguously, not cleanly, after decades, not days.

One article on The Huffington Post certainly isn't enough to change anything, let alone fully make sense of things. But this is all I could do today... instead of watching Stargate.

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