Scenario Two: An Optimistic view of the United States future


This is the second in a two part series exploring a pessimistic and an optimistic future for the United States. Part One appeared yesterday.

A positive assessment of US prospects rests on at least seven propositions. First, the current crisis is not inherently more threatening than many others, most notably the Civil War, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. Quality leadership, building on the resilient political and economic institutions of the country, will prove sufficient to bring about needed sacrifices and transformations. We have seen this many times in the past from the Progressive Era to the New Deal, the Second World War and the winning of the Cold War, which was a uniquely bipartisan triumph.

Second, despite the ongoing problems of racial inequality and tensions about immigration, the United States has been uniquely successful in having peacefully achieved a truly multi-racial and multi-ethnic state. It has welcomed waves of diverse immigrants, and integrated them into a broader, ever changing society. This process has culminated symbolically and literally in the election of a multi-racial president, Barack Obama.

Third, economic corruption and financial crises have been recurring phenomena, and the nation has emerged out of these because of the sheer magnitude of talent and natural resources. This has been aided by a deep entrepreneurial capacity and willingness to take risks, and, overall, a willingness of most to work hard to improve life for themselves and their families.

Fourth is the existence of a large and literate population, willing to work, certainly the world’s finest university system and research establishment, over and over again engendering innovations that create future economies: e.g., the computer revolution. American secondary education is still in need of great improvement, but the US University remains a beacon to talent from around the world.

Fifth, despite the noise and uproar, despite the continuing clash between the traditional and the modern or secular, the nation, through its independent courts and helped by governmental decentralization, e.g. the Federal system, the country remains the freest society in human history. Despite the appearance of power of the religious right under the Republicans since the 1970s, serious erosion in freedom of thought has been kept to a minimum. Similarly, the cult of political correctness, although annoying, has become, if anything, less potent and increasingly the butt of jokes.

Sixth, and perhaps most important, we have to consider demography. Despite current unemployment and despite the imminent retirement of the baby boomer generation, the United States, alone among the richest economies, will continue to have a relatively favorable ratio of wage earners to the elderly. This will enable us to afford social security and Medicare. The new generation – known as millennials – will constitute a large source of new labor, innovation and entrepreneurs needed to propel our economy.

Finally, there are a few positive trends, including modest recovery in housing and in auto sales, hints of some pulling back from the out-sourcing of services, and continuing innovation and marketing of new products and services. On the political side, although the current anti-incumbent mood will likely reduce Democratic margins in Congress and in several states in 2010, the sheer lunacy of the “tea party“ activists, many of them unreconstructed “know nothings” may actually hurt the Republican party more than the Democrats. People are constantly being reminded why, for all the failings of the Democrats, they tossed the Republicans from power in the first place.

An optimistic scenario rests on the historical precedent of muddling through crises and then creating new waves of innovation in products and services, and on the presence of a large labor force willing and able to work. A vital question is whether the President and Congress will have the courage to ask voters to make short-term sacrifices: higher income taxes on the rich and reduced subsidies to entrenched interests across the board that will be needed to restore fiscal health. And finally there is the big question, are the American people ready to do with less today to build a better future for the next generation?

Richard Morrill is Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Washington. His research interests include: political geography (voting behavior, redistricting, local governance), population/demography/settlement/migration, urban geography and planning, urban transportation (i.e., old fashioned generalist).

Photo: elycefeliz

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Professor Morrill’s reminds me of some of my best professors and friends. How I wish there were more of those voices speaking up today. These were the voices that helped our nation to think more deeply about what it means to be an American in the world at large. Judging from a few of the comments to his first scenario, its perfectly obvious that a good many Americans have given up thinking for themselves and are instead relying on the talking heads from Faux News etc to tell them what to say and when.
Childish gibberish, predictable, repetitive and...boring.
The ideals of America are about to truly be tested—again. They were tested at the turn of the previous century when our shores were awash with new immigrants who only knew dreams of this land called America. They too helped to make America the great leader of the 20thy century. It was not an easy transition but their brains made us great.
One thing that really concerns me is the reality that a huge percentage of the next 100 million Americans may be poorly educated unless we as a nation decide that education and being competitive is the key to the future—for every child. If we do not get a hold of the problem of a growing underclass, we are done for. Rather than being vested in the future, they will look at the future as belonging to someone else—and that will cost all of us. This will be especially true if the future favors a closed society vs open society. ( Chinese and Japanese unity etc)
Yes, the American dream is about to be tested. Recent data suggest that 50% of the children born this year are racial and ethnic minorities. If the children are not fully invested in the American dream for the future, the Professor Morrill’s former scenario is a lock.

Much better scenario

I like this much better than the previous, but I will concede a bias towards looking at the glass half full. Author does a good job of reminding us that we have weathered other crises, some worse than present, and come out on the other end okay.

The point about demography is an extremely important one. The simple arithemtic of birth rates shows that Japan and Europe have aging and inward looking civilizations that are being depopulated. It is a slow moving train wreck. The US, due to both birth rates and immigration, will be impacted less by this. When looking at demography there is no "significant event" to make news, so this is not paid much attention, but this is big and the author is right to highlight this.

The author still can't get away from his condescending slams at tea party activists, who rightly recognize that we have spending and debt problems (perpetrated by both Republicans and Democrats, the Republicans are just "less bad" which doesn't say much) and his prescription to "tax the rich more" will just amplify the financial problems we have, by increasing the tax base imbalance of an already massively progressive system. Taxing the rich, rather than having a broader tax base, results in high revenue volatility and therefore massive deficits. California is in its current shape because of its tax policy relying on the "rich". And the debt is our biggest problem as a nation. Why can't reducing spending be part of the solution? Why is it always raising more revenue?

Way more enjoyable than yesterday's post.