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“WHO ARE WE? WHAT DO WE AMERICANS TRULY VALUE?”

Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now is over $800 billion dollars a year… if we judge the United States of America by that… Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

–Senator Robert F. Kennedy

What do we stand for as a nation and who do we wish to be? In a 1968 speech at the University of Kansas, Senator Robert Kennedy correctly worried too many used our nation’s wealth as the standard of greatness rather than the human values that should matter most. Our Gross Domestic Product — now $17.7 trillion — includes many things for us not to be proud of. So we should ask ourselves how well America is doing on the things that should matter most—the well-being of our children and families and the quality of justice and life in our communities and nation?

Among high-income countries the United States ranks first in Gross Domestic Product and first in the number of billionaires, and second worst in child poverty rates – ahead only of Romania whose economy is 99 percent smaller than ours. It is a national disgrace that children are the poorest group of Americans with 14.7 million living in poverty.

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