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10 Ways America Has Come to Resemble a Banana Republic

What will it take for America to reverse its dramatic decline?

In the post-New Deal America of the 1950s and '60s, the idea of the United States becoming a banana republic would have seemed absurd to most Americans. Problems and all, the U.S. had a lot going for it: a robust middle-class, an abundance of jobs that paid a living wage, a strong manufacturing base, a heavily unionized work force, and upward mobility for both white-collar workers with college degrees and blue-collar workers who attended trade school. To a large degree, the nation worked well for cardiologists, accountants, attorneys and computer programmers as well as electricians, machinists, plumbers and construction workers.

In contrast, developing countries that were considered banana republics—the Dominican Republic under the brutal Rafael Trujillo regime, Nicaragua under the Somoza dynasty—lacked upward mobility for most of the population and were plagued by blatant income equality, a corrupt alliance of government and corporate interests, rampant human rights abuses, police corruption and extensive use of torture on political dissidents.

Saying that the U.S. had a robust middle-class in the 1950s and '60s is not to say it was devoid of poverty, which was one of the things Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was vehemently outspoken about. King realized that the economic gains of the post-World War II era need to be expanded to those who were still on the outside of the American Dream looking in. But 50 years after King’s "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963, poverty has become much more widespread in the U.S.—and the country has seriously declined not only economically, but also in terms of civil liberties and constitutional rights.

Here are 10 ways in which the United States has gone from bad to worse, and is looking more and more like a banana republic in 2013.

1. Rising Income Inequality and Shrinking Middle Class

In a stereotypical banana republic, income inequality is dramatic: one finds an ultra-rich minority, a poor majority, a small or nonexistent middle class, and a lack of upward mobility for most of the population. And according to a recent study on income inequality conducted by four researchers (Emmanuel Saez, Facundo Alvaredo, Thomas Piketty and Anthony B. Atkinson), the U.S. is clearly moving in that direction in 2013.

Their report asserted that the U.S. now has the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world. They found that while the picture grows increasingly bleak for American’s embattled middle-class, “the share of total annual income received by the top 1% has more than doubled from 9% in 1976 to 20% in 2011.” And earlier this year, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD also found that the U.S. now leads the developed industrialized world in income inequality. 

2. Unchecked Police Corruption and an Ever-Expanding Police State 

Journalist Chris Hedges made an excellent point when he said that brutality committed on the outer reaches of empire eventually migrates back to the heart of empire. Hedges asserted that with the increased militarization of American police, drug raids in the U.S. are now looking like military actions taken by American soldiers in Fallujah, Iraq. And, to be sure, there have been numerous examples of militarized narcotics officers killing innocent people in botched drug raids or sting operations gone wrong.

To make matters worse, narcotics officers who kill innocent people rarely face either civil or criminal prosecution; they essentially operate with impunity. And in addition to the abuses of the war on drugs, the U.S. government has far-reaching powers it did not have prior to 9/11. Between the drug war, the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and warrantless wiretapping, the United States is employing the sorts of tactics that are common in dictatorships.

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