Let’s talk about a couple reasons we should be optimistic about the future. The two reasons are somewhat random and not connected. One relates to the US, while the other applies anywhere.
Divisive US politics
Is divisive politics a reason to be optimistic? Well, it could be. It’s possible that the experiences of Presidents Obama and Trump may lead us to a better place in the long run.
Obama: President Obama behaved too autocratically. He issued plenty of executive orders. His executive branch agencies (EPA, Labor, etc.) unilaterally pumped out tons of new rules, including some because Congress wouldn’t pass the laws he wanted. His administration selectively enforced the laws, enforcing the ones he liked but not always the ones he disliked.
Obama entered the US into international ‘treaties’ without submitting them for Senate ratification as required by the Constitution. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was literally designed to be shielded from oversight and the will of voters! (See this post if you want more details on why CFPB is bad government.)
Trump: Then along came President Trump. He also has behaved too autocratically. Compared to Obama, he has probably been less autocratic in deeds, but more autocratic in words. His tweets and speeches demonstrate a “king of the hill” mentality.
Trump has issued plenty of executive orders. He has made veiled threats against the media. He has justified his policy preferences, such as restricting international trade and propping up inefficient coal and nuclear plants, on questionable legal grounds.
Similarities: Obama and Trump are different politicians with very different ideas. But they do share a few things in common.
First, they both tend toward autocracy. They seem to think they are above the law, that rules and The Process apply to lesser mortals, and that the end justifies the means.
Second, they both tend toward a petulant, narcissistic self-centeredness that makes everything about them.
Third, they are both deeply unpopular to an unusual extent with their political opposition. Unpopular enough to spark unusual reactions.
Reactions: What kind of reactions? They both provoked their opposition into greater political awareness and cohesion.
Obama’s push for bigger government alarmed many people, and the Tea Party sprang up in response.
Trump’s boorish rhetoric and anti-immigration views likewise alarmed many people, prompting widespread #Resistance at every turn.
Through their bad examples, both Obama and Trump galvanized different segments of the population to become better-informed. People wanted to know, “can he really do that?” Many have read the Constitution to better understand the checks and balances on government power.
Benefits: This is where divisive politics might end up taking us to a better place.
- It’s a good thing when more people read the Constitution and gain a deeper understanding of checks and balances.
- It’s a good thing when more people start to realize that society is better served by a government with less unilateral executive action and autocracy.
- It’s a good thing when people start to wonder if government should have less power, because they don’t like what happens when politicians they detest hold the reins of power.
Why are these things good? Because if they are indeed true, in future years more people will question government actions and fewer people will expect politicians and government to solve their problems. This should (a) help limit the power of government, which would (b) ensure that we have ample economic freedom, which will (c) result in greater dignity and prosperity for all.
And that’s a great long-term result regardless of which political tribe we belong to.
Technology boosts ideas and knowledge
Prosperity is not automatic. It must be developed and sustained through advances in productivity and innovation.
Those advances rely on ideas and knowledge. New ideas spark productivity and innovation, then crystallized knowledge spreads and sustains them.
This is my second reason for optimism: There has never been a better time in world history for the creation of new ideas and the spread of knowledge.
Strong base: Ideas and knowledge usually build upon an existing base of ideas and knowledge. The higher the current base, the easier it is for future efforts to ascend even higher. If you’re climbing stairs, it’s easier to reach the 31st floor if you start your climb on the 28th floor instead of the first.
The good news is, our current base of knowledge is higher than ever before in world history.
Computer power: We also have more computing capability than ever before in world history. This allows greater numbers of new ideas to be generated and tested for validity.
Better computers enable us to run more and varied simulation ‘experiments.’ They enable us to capture and explore ‘big data’ to discover trends or relationships. They enable faster calculations, meaning more progress in a shorter time. They are cheap enough to be ubiquitous, ranging from supercomputers to personal computers to simple computers embedded in various ‘smart’ devices.
Internet: On top of that we also have this internet thing that connects the world. It makes knowledge-sharing and collaboration across the globe so much easier than ever before.
Internet connectivity means that more people, more collaboration, and more diverse viewpoints can be applied to any problem or research project. This should improve the quality of ideas. It surely makes spreading knowledge easier and faster than ever before.
The internet should benefit humanity as much as the widespread adoption of the mechanized printing press after 1450. It should multiply the growth of ideas and knowledge.
Even though we have made great strides with computers and the internet, I think we are still just scratching the surface of possible applications throughout the economy. There are plenty of additional benefits to come.
We have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future. These are just two of them.
The first one may or may not bear great fruit. We’ll see. But it should help if more citizens of a representative republic read the Constitution and ponder the proper role of government.
The second reason is more certain. When it’s easier to create ideas and spread knowledge, that should help productivity and innovation flourish. Of course, economic freedom is also a must, because people must be free to act upon the opportunities.
Hmm, maybe the two reasons are connected after all.
I encourage you to enter comments or questions below. Two rules: 1) be reasonably polite, 2) address the issue and avoid personal attacks.