Freedom and democracy were developed by a ruling class of white male property and slave owners who did not want to pay excess taxes to England. Over time, this revolution gave birth to an economy of entrepreneurs and citizens who believed they could work and even create their own businesses if left to their individual ingenuity. The possibility of a self-made man was born. Later, this was combined with the progressive reforms of the New Deal, active participation of labor unions, and correction and better control of the market, limiting monopolies, for example. The balance between individual freedom and community needs was met. As long as the wealth was not too concentrated and the lower middle class was not too poor, the system worked. The social mobility was not extremely high but not static. I remember that in the 1960s, one felt that companies cared about their local impact and employees. However, as Robert Putman observed, this began to change in the 1970's. (Putman, 2023)

Many factors came together. From a socioeconomic point of view, the growing obesity, the high cost of health care, expensive higher education, the greater use of drugs, galloping incarceration, gun-related violence, and deaths, a lack of social investments with continued emphasis on defense spending—all weakened the lower half of the earners. Many of these families barely make ends meet without multiple jobs. They lead hectic lives. With globalization, many lost work in import-sensitive sectors and felt left out with respect to their urban counterparts. Politics became more divisive with the divided population. With the help of PACs and super PACs, politics became even more polarized with the backing of different industries and elite groups.

At the same time, in the late 1970s, the scientists of the US oil and gas industry, together with other climate scientists, understood that climate warming was caused primarily by our burning of fossil fuels. Company senior scientist James Black warned Exxon in 1978 that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two or three degrees—an amount consistent with the scientific consensus today (Hall 2015). Shortly after, the petroleum industry began to mislead the public and create doubts about climate change. From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, Exxon was a leader in climate change denial, opposing regulations to curtail global warming. As consumers using automobiles and heating our homes with fossil fuels, we share some of this responsibility for global warming. Today, carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, and after 28 years of COPs, the world is still underinvesting in climate solutions.

The rise of financial capitalism and the winner-take-all effects of Internet platforms helped accelerate economic inequality. “In the third quarter of 2023, 66.6 percent of the total wealth in the United States was owned by the top 10 percent of earners. In comparison, the lowest 50 percent of earners only owned 2.6 percent of the total wealth” (Statista, p. 1, 2023). The income of the top ten percent was 12.63 times higher than that of the bottom ten percent (US Census, 2023). Between 1980 and 2017, the European top 1% pre-tax income share rose from 8% to 11%, while it rose from 11% to 21% in the US. (Blancet et al., 2019)

Respect for institutions is declining. The price to be paid for such a disruptive political system remains to be seen. Democracy may be in danger with an economic elite that has been individualistic and selfish. The American dream is about to break or is already broken.

New Year wishes

With this background, my wishes regard these themes.

Make the markets work

  • Provide the information to make the markets work. Give the US consumer and investor verifiable carbon emissions of companies and products.
  • Let the consumer have reliable information regarding the degree of recycling and the durability and reparability of products. Let the consumer or investor have the choice of a circular economy.
  • Make it easier for individuals to invest in specific climate change improvements, also in developing countries.
  • Improve the legal system for controlling market abuses, such as greenwashing. Give more support for environmental justice.
  • Use AI to monitor and improve markets and social well-being.

Decrease the economic divide between the upper and lower halves

  • Understand the limits of wealth and income inequality for the economic and political good of the nation. Comprehend the risks of a highly conflictual and dysfunctional political system. It threatens democracy and may contaminate the economic system.
  • Tax wealthy individuals to finance climate and social programs.
  • Remove tax deductions and tax benefits from the fossil fuel industry.
  • Support stakeholder capitalism. Labor may be the second vital stakeholder to be considered, with labor unions on the board of directors of major European corporations.

Bring us together

  • Make democracy work: abolish PACs, gerrymandering, and other divisive measures.
  • Engage in more local democracy, which often works, serving as examples for improving state and national politics.
  • Encourage a sense of community and community centers where people from different backgrounds and political orientations can come together to peacefully exchange ideas and share positive experiences (Francescato, 2020).
  • Encourage youth climate and reform movements. Change will come from the bottom.
  • Promote individual and family behavioral changes to favor a better climate. This includes more inclusive urban planning.
  • Work more closely with Europe (and other countries), which share many of these strategies.

The above is a list of wishes, but it reveals how dysfunctional we have become. Every empire can decline. The ray of hope is that the “I” can become a bit more “we.” America must have respect for the individual and an equal concern for the community. The system needs to be brought back into balance.


1 Blancet, T., Chancel, L., Gethin, A., (2019), How Unequal Is Europe? Evidence from Distributional National Accounts, 1980-2017, World Inequality Database, Working Paper No. 2019/6, April.
2 Francecato, D., (2020), Why We Need to Build a Planetary Sense of Community, in “Community Psychology in a Global Perspective”, 6, 2, pp. 140-164, ESE Publications.
3 Hall, S. (2015), Exxon Knew about Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago, Scientific American Daily Newsletter, October 26.
4 Kollar, M., (2023), Income Inequality Down Due to Drops in Real Incomes at the Middle and Top, But Post-Tax Income Estimates Tell a Different Story, September 12, US Census Bureau.
5 Putman, R., D., et al., (2023), The Upswing, Simon and Schuster, New York.
6 Statista (2023), Wealth distribution in the United States in the third quarter of 2023.