During an election year there's no shortage of experts and assorted pundits who are eager to tell us what's really going on in our world. This time there are new discussions about various trends, forecasts, polls and prognostications geared to either get people excited about certain candidates and issues or to intentionally cause frustration and lack of participation in the process.
One term having renewed use is the "Misery Index." The name has its roots back in the Lyndon Johnson administration with Arthur Okun, LBJ's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. His formula assessed the impact of adding the inflation and unemployment rates together. In his 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan made the concept of the Misery Index a winning issue, tying the number to his "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" question, regarding Jimmy Carter's presidential performance.
The Young America's Foundation recently issued their updated "Youth Misery Index." pointing out that unemployment for young people is much worse than the national average. Adding that rate of 17.4 percent to the average graduating student debt of $26,300 (shortened to 26.3 for the formula) and attaching that to the national debt per capita ($46,900 or 46.9)—their index number is a whopping 90.6. Shocking and, yes, complicated. But it makes their point in a fresh way.
I believe there is a simpler way to figure out what's going on in America today. It's something I will call "The Dupability Index". This idea of mine is not a deeply researched, scientific term, but I believe it may be more clearly understood than many others. And it's certainly a major factor in our culture.
What is dupability? First, let's review the root word: dupe. The World English Dictionary describes a dupe (noun) as "a person who is easily deceived" and "a person who unwittingly serves as the tool of another person or power." There are variations of the word: duper, dupable, undupable and, of course, dupability.
I will define my concept of this American Dupability Index as an influential collection of bits and pieces of news (fact and fable), celebrity gossip, a lack of understanding of basic government and economics, and a growing obsession with grabbing "free" benefits from government. The index is not limited to these things. In fact, every day new tidbits funnel into this national mindset, causing distortion and making poor choices and alliances.
The 24/7 news cycle doesn't help. The most important stories in our world come and go so fast. One moment it's a calamity or disaster, then the next day we have forgotten everything. For example, just a little over a year ago everyone was concerned about Japan after the quake and devastating tsunami. Before long it was off the front pages, web and TV news, even as today the recovery struggles continue for those in the midst of the mess.
You can think of this as a "National Attention Deficit Disorder" too. We are so busy with everyday needs, trying to rise from the recession and make ends meet that it's quite easy and understandable that the appearance of any new "shiny object" will attract our immediate attention. It's like the dog "Dug" in the animated movie "Up." He's very focused until—"SQUIRREL!!!"—something less important gets all the attention.
Political candidates of every party—and their "handlers")—really know how to exploit America's dupability factor.
Think about the last national election in 2008. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent selling candidates and causes, and 2012 will set new records. Distorted, negative advertising is now increasing precisely because it creates a duping effect.
Four years ago Californians were sold "high speed rail" as a job-creating plan. So far the only jobs created have been for people running the show, still all theory and estimated to cost more than double, $100 billion-plus, the election year estimate. San Diego voters even approved the measure because they were duped into thinking employment would explode and access to the trains would be easy, even though the planned rail service would never reach San Diego.
Remember the woman on network television saying her candidate should be elected because she'd never have to worry about paying her mortgage or getting gas for her car? It would all just happen, magically. We laughed about such extremes, but now our Dupability Index shows that more adults who ought to know better are right in sync with her thinking.
Dependency on government benefits has reached all-time highs in our country, and if we want to see where that can lead us in the future, here's one word: Greece. In that country people riot and burn businesses when politicians try even a little to put the "entitlement genie" back in the bottle. With big budget cuts coming to the USA, it could be a long, hot and violent summer.
We are very close to a point where more than half of all Americans get some sort of goodies from Uncle Sam. Around 49.5 percent to be exact. And about 47 percent of our fellow citizens don't pay federal income taxes. Those numbers add up to another important word: Unsustainable.
I'm not surprised that Americans often fall for promises and schemes. The Bible warns about false teachers and people who become "right in their own eyes," changing definitions on whims and trying to define what "truth" means. Satan has to love it when the sheer volume of such things causes us to fall for anything or simply drop out of the events that surround us.
This sounds like a nightmare, but I truly hope and pray we now realize it's time for a wake up call, getting our country out of the fog of dupability—before it's too late.
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 6 to 9 a.m., and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 4 p.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published, March 2012