08/29/2012 01:37 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2012

America's Two Countries

What we have in America is a poor country living inside a rich country, and our tragedy is the people of the rich country pleasure themselves by acting as if the people of the poor country don't exist. It's understandable, since if they recognize the existence of the poor country they might feel obligated to part with some of their wealth.

But the reality is that redistributing wealth will not fix the problem of the two American countries (already well articulated by Michael Harrington many years ago). There just isn't enough wealth to go around. Our problem is not a distribution problem but a systemic problem -- free market capitalism works very well for a few people, moderately well for most of the middle class, and not well at all for everyone else. That's the problem, and avoidance of facing that problem -- especially by conservatives with an elite education -- is a disgrace. All the self-serving conservative rhetoric boils down to arguments for maintaining the status quo or returning to an even freer capitalism than we now have. Noblesse oblige? There's a great deal of noblesse and little visible oblige -- not enough to sustain the structure of this society.

So what will happen? I'm a pessimist in the short term and an optimist in the long term. It seems apparent that the strains of a dual society, a poor country living inside a rich country, will ultimately bring destruction. It's happened before in history many times and it will happen again in America. Endemic inequality produces resentment and hatred and unbearable stress and ultimately catastrophe for everyone. The clearest known examples are the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution.

And if you look at the so-called "Arab Spring" with an unclouded eye, it's the strains of dual societies that caused the revolts -- not a yearning for American culture.

Of course the world at large will be part of any American catastrophe. At the present time, the rich in the world are too busy making and spending money to worry about everyone else, and everyone else is too busy trying to survive to worry about politics. Make the stresses great enough and the catastrophe of America will be shared by the world.

So where is the source of optimism? History has its own devices. There is no contract anywhere that the political and economic and social structures of our civilization are destined to survive for eternity. Our civilization will fall, and out of the ashes humanity will rise again. My optimistic belief is that the next Civilization of Man will look back on us as a mere continuation of the Dark Age into which the world was plunged after the fall of the Roman Empire.

We are still in it, folks. It's foolish to think otherwise. Eliminating one group of quasi-sociopaths and replacing it with another group of quasi-sociopaths does not take you out of a "dark" age.

For the longer run, what seems apparent is that in the far far future, let us say in a million years -- a cosmic blip -- they will collect our skulls and call us Early Man.

We are indeed "early".

Do not imagine that any of our present ideas about economics and capitalism and the free market and so-called "job creators" will be of any interest to those people -- except maybe as examples of the folly and ignorance of Early Man.