I was wondering what kind of life my grandkids will have two decades from now. Twenty years from now they will be adults. They will probably have kids of their own by then. Will they have happy, prosperous, fulfilling lives?
But it will be very difficult for them to have happy, prosperous, fulfilling lives if the community they live in is wracked by crime, violence, poverty and unemployment. They will need to live in a community that is safe and secure, has functioning utilities, opportunities for education, faith and work. These are necessary elements to have a good life in America or any country. But it will be very difficult to have a prosperous, well-functioning community if the entire nation is wracked by dissension, violence and crime. No island is immune to the torments of the sea that surrounds it. Ideological divisiveness infects our city councils and local school boards. Crime is rampant in our major cities.
And it will be impossible to have a happy and prosperous nation where everyone has a shot at the American Dream if the rest of world is in conflict and constant war. The people of Ukraine cannot envision what their lives will be like in twenty years, their time frame is twenty-four hours and their goal is survival. The Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans protected America from great power conflicts in its infancy, but now even a pipsqueak country like North Korea can threaten the lives of millions with its nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.
So if we want to assure that our grandchildren and their children inherit a world where they can have happy, prosperous, fulfilling lives we must envision a happy, peaceful, prosperous world into which they can live. But how can we do that? Seventy percent of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction. But what is the right direction? What do we have to do to create that peaceful and prosperous world we all seek?
Well, we can take an example from our recent past. The twentieth century came close to providing the kind of world we are seeking. The West, led by America, defeated fascist and imperial ambition in two world wars, ended colonialism and mercantilism, outlasted the threat of communism and provided the world with an unprecedented level of peace and prosperity raising billions out of the poverty that they had endured for many millenniums. That era was not perfect. There were still wars, and prosperity was not always evenly distributed. But we must remember, there were fewer wars, fewer casualties. And even the poor were better off, living longer, healthier lives. So, recreating the good aspects of the American-led rules-based world order that we enjoyed in the twentieth century while making some improvements from what we learned in the twentieth century would not be a bad place to start.
The World in Twenty Years
Back in 1982, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping set two centenary goals for which the Chinese people were to strive under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. The first centenary goal was to be an economically well off country by the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 1921. China was extremely poor in in 1921 and in 1982. By 2021 China was the second largest economy in the world with a GDP per capita of around $12,500. This is considered middle income by the OECD . In Confucianism it is called a Xiaokang society. So, goal achieved! The second centenary goal was to become a “modern socialist country” by the 100th anniversary of the CPC’s victory over the Nationalist Chinese in 1949. Xi Jinping’s reemphasis of the supremacy of the Communist Party of China is a move toward achieving that second centenary goal.
In the United States the time horizon for our politicians never exceeds 24 months – the time until the next election. So setting goals to be achieved over the next 20 years for the United States is practically inconceivable (while the Chinese keeping unerringly working toward achieving theirs). We need bold leaders to lay out those goals and get the American people (and maybe even the politicians) unified in working toward achieving them.
First and foremost, twenty years from now we want the world to be at peace. But a bunch of hippies making the peace sign won’t bring us global peace. There are bad actors on the world stage and weakness only makes them more aggressive. Witness Ukraine after the West did nothing when Russia annexed the Crimea, the Taliban as the US withdrew from Afghanistan and, the worst example, Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” after making concessions to Hitler on the eve of World War Two.
Autocrats fear strength. The mass casualties that Russia is suffering at the hands of Ukrainian soldiers with NATO equipment and ammunition weakens Putin’s grip on the Russian people. Totalitarians fear truth. The US must stand resolute backed by a powerful alliance of like-minded countries. Peace, in a dangerous world, requires a strong military presence to reinforce diplomacy.
We would like a world that is free from pollution and not in danger of getting warmer year after year. But the world is made up of many countries and many of them are increasing their use of fossil fuels to increase the energy that they need for their development. Although many of them make promises to be good little countries and are more than willing to sign any international accord to reduce carbon emissions put in front of them, the truth is they have little intention to live up to those promises. Biden’s Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, stirred up a furor recently (here in Austin at SXSW) by saying that the US should “learn from what China is doing.” I don’t understand the controversy. The US should learn from what China is doing. Yes, they have an aggressive plan to develop green energy (most of President Biden’s Green New Deal is dependent on China’s green industries). But China is also building many conventional power plants (mostly using coal because they lack natural gas) and nuclear power plants to assure their energy supplies. To have the strength necessary to keep global peace, America and the West need reliable energy and lots of it. Because climate change will continue no matter how much the US reduces its carbon emissions, our efforts should be directed to mitigating the impact of climate change so that we can direct our efforts and resources to the task of keeping global peace.
We will also need international trade to promote global economic growth. Because few countries have all the resources they need to support a modern society, most countries are dependent on international trade to get essential resources and as an outlet for their merchandise. Countries starved of resources may be prompted to take those resources by force. That was a key motivator of Japan’s aggression in World War Two. It is better for all parties if countries can get the indispensible resources through trade instead of war. Countries, however, also need secure supply lines to assure the continued flow of vital resources so shipping lines of critical supplies should not be dependent on unreliable or possibly authoritarian producers that often do not follow global trade rules.
America in Twenty Years
Given these constraints on our aspirations, it is unlikely that the world twenty years from now would be the picture of the ideal that most people would envision. But we must work like hell to keep it from being the awful, dangerous place it could be. The world I have described may be far from perfect, but it is pragmatic. It mirrors the twentieth century which has been described as the American Century. Hopefully, the Twenty-First Century will also be an American Century where the inhabitants of the planet can live their lives in peace and prosperity.
Assuming we can achieve some form of stable world order where countries can work together while still maintaining their own cultures, religions and ideologies, then we need to envision what kind of America we would want to have twenty years from now. In the early part of the twenty-first century America has been rent by division and violence in addition to terrorist attacks, financial crises and deadly pandemics.
In twenty years I would want my grandchildren to able to live fulfilling lives with the freedom to choose where and how to live and work. I want them to be able to work toward achieving their unique conception of the American Dream, whatever that might be. And that can only be possible if all the other people in America enjoy the same freedoms as my grandchildren. Such a future can only occur if the people of America whole heartedly endorse our traditional virtues of hard work, delayed gratification and lifelong learning. Americans need to embrace the middle class values that propelled America to the peak of global power and prosperity. Like the global order we hope to enjoy twenty years from now, it would be a pragmatic and not idealized vision of America.
The supporters of Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter, along with many supporters of the progressive left, have pointed out the many defects of this vision of America. But they have not clearly defined their vision of what America would look like in twenty years if their policies would be fully implemented. I am pretty sure it would not be an America I would want my grandchildren, or anybody’s grandchildren, to live in. The twentieth century saw substantial progress in promoting the civil rights of citizens of any race or ethnicity. More work needs to be done but we should build on the progress made so far, striving to achieve Rev. Martin Luther King’s goal of color-blindness. The race conscious ideology of CRT and Black Lives Matter will only lead us back to the past.
I do not believe that a continuation of the ever-expanding welfare state, with the concomitant expansion of government power, will provide my grandchildren with the freedom they need to seek their own American Dream. The solution to this dilemma is to reduce the need for entitlements by giving the American people the agency and ability to control their own lives. This starts with education. America’s public schools have failed this nation and are currently on a path to make things much worse. America once was the best educated nation on earth. Not any longer. You can’t send kids from broken families to failing schools and expect good results. Rigor and discipline must be reapplied in our schools and our families.
Well educated people do very well in the United States. The poorly educated fail and need the welfare state to sustain them. The first step to reduce the need for the welfare state is to improve the education of all our children. If we start right now, we will have a better educated and prepared generation of children twenty years from now. Then they will be able to take care of themselves without government’s assistance.
A better future will not be handed to us on a platter if we vote for politicians promising more and more help from government. This is zero sum thinking that we must take from others so the government can give us some crumbs. I am proposing an expanding pie where everyone has a chance to achieve their American Dream. But it will not be easy. It will take hard work and sacrifices. It will take discipline. It will require a cultural shift to realign a culture disintegrating into a morass of self-absorption into one based on our founding principles.
If we can do that, then my grandchildren will have a good shot at living happy, prosperous, fulfilling lives.