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The Shape of the Future

I eagerly read Elizabeth Warren’s article in yesterday’s online Foreign Affairs, called “A Foreign Policy for All.”  I was disappointed in the generalities, the doctrinaire set-pieces against growing inequality and the decline of the middle class, and the lack of any real picture of what her future world would look like. I agreed with her focuses on the need for a healthy domestic economy that works for everyone as a necessity in maintaining America’s place in the world, on cutting our exorbitant military spending and the foolishness of our military adventures over the last several years, and on the evils of a tax system that favors the wealthy. She included enough criticisms and accusations about President Donald Trump to make her article indistinguishable from most liberal/progressive attacks, however she rightly criticized U.S. policies from the last decades, well before Trump, that have profited multinational companies and the wealthy at everyone else’s expenses.

I’m ready for a serious discussion from someone other than an academic about a view of the future that seeks to remedy the ills of the present and the policies and political stances that perpetuate them. As long as our politicians mostly seek to provoke knee-jerk agreement from supporters by reciting dog-whistle arguments about wealthy elites, corruption, falling behind the Chinese, and middle class stagnation, I doubt that we will hear such a serious discussion from any of them.

Here is some of my view of what a future should look like:

Domestically, the plight of America’s poor is much more dire than that of its middle class, they just don’t vote often enough to make them anyone’s focus. America’s income inequality is disproportionately large compared to most other countries and it is largest in some states that appear to be doing well, such as California and New York, and in those doing least well, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, suggesting that the design of our current economic/social system has some basic flaws that are not being overcome by nationwide economic success. I would like to see a renewed “war on poverty” that focuses upon education, infrastructure rebuilding and job training, forging government-industry partnerships. Such an effort must also address the two dramatic scourges that cripple those trying to move from one socio-economic level to another, which are health care costs and housing costs/shortages. I believe this will take a large government investment of funds and some innovative government programs. It will also take a more graduated income tax system that relies on higher taxes for the wealthy to fund programs that address the problems of those most hurting in our current economy. In terms of healthcare, the arguments have already been made that a federal program such as Medicare for All is the best answer. In terms of housing, some courageous politicians will have to address issues such as the need for rent control and the ability to supersede local building restrictions in order to build more high-rise housing in communities that currently restrict such building in the name of preserving their (privileged) quality of life.

Issues such as global warming, settling of border disputes, intellectual property rights, cyberwarfare, and nuclear proliferation are not able to be solved by individual nations acting bilaterally. The interests of global business and international peace and economic progress cannot be completely disentangled, and business interests and government must work together. The TPP was a case study in how not to negotiate a trade agreement, because the negotiation was done in secret, the negotiators were either directly multinational businesses or were heavily influenced by them, and the result would have put protection of multinational companies ahead of protection of the citizens of the countries that were participating. That doesn’t mean that such trade agreements are evil or futile. What it means is that we still need to negotiate such agreements, the larger often the better, but the negotiators need to be government entities that we, as citizens are in control of, and the negotiations need to be open and transparent and subject to minute oversight by our elected representatives (as was not done with TPP when Obama asked for “fast-track” authority to approve the deal without congress really examining it). Without such international treaties and agreements, we are going to view every one of those issues as a competitive one that will ultimately turn into a race for supremacy or hegemony. But, as we’ve seen with NAFTA, such agreements affect every one of us. I strongly believe that the days of the United States going it alone in order to keep “America First” are over and that we need to become part of larger cooperative groups—perhaps different groups for different issues—hopefully ones that can eventually bring the whole world into them. Needless to say, a worldwide effort to stem global warming is near the top of the list.


Our future world will continue to wrestle with the tension between cooperation and competition. I recently listened to an interview with progressive Democratic congressman Ro Khanna, who said that we need to make winning against China a centerpiece of our economic/foreign policy. To my mind, that’s the wrong kind of thinking. A future world is guaranteed to have both China and the U.S. as economic powerhouses. Which is larger may not really matter. Our economic systems are moving toward similar models and addressing similar issues. It is the stance of our governments toward their people that differ more than our economic policies. China exerts more control over not just its country’s business practices, but also freedom of speech and the press, internet communication, worker independence, and citizen input into government decisions than does the U.S. China is not a democracy and does not intend to be one. They are assisting many developing countries to pull themselves out of poverty, and supporting repressive government practices in those countries while they’re doing it. That isn’t the American model—or shouldn’t be. But it’s not necessarily a threat to us, and it’s not something we need to combat by figuring out how to contain China. If our system of freedoms is superior, we need to show that it is by example and by the countries that we assist doing well. Assisting another country by selling them arms or backing up their military adventures, or remaining silent as they violate citizen rights in order not to jeopardize our business dealings with them is not teaching anyone a good lesson about America’s way of helping others. Until we learn how to do it right, we don’t need to spend so much time on figuring out how to combat China’s approach. There are whole areas within less wealthy, sometimes developing, countries that a foreign policy that ties aid to progress in easing repression can address: drug trafficking in Central America, health, clean water and food distribution issues in Africa, the structure of loans to economically unstable South American countries, relocation of populations within drought and flood plagued areas of Asia and the island nations that are being hit hardest by the effects of global warming.

These are broad strokes of a future foreign and domestic agenda that could be what politicians address if they are serious about fixing the problems that will limit our country’s ability to succeed in the future. This is some of my view of the kind of future world I would like to see. It’s not a view that relies on tearing anything down and starting over, but one that reaffirms our American value system and tries to make the way our country works be good for all of our citizens as well as the rest of the world.

Reader Comments (1)

Income inequality in a capitalist economy is meaningless. The US economy is designed to produce inequality since it best serves those that have adeptness and competence in filling various market needs and available jobs. Unfortunately, there are no jobs available for people with an intellegence quotient less than eighty-three. This is the minimum level of processing ability acceptable for the least intellectually demanding jobs. Fifteen percent of Americans fall below this level of general intelligence. The problem isn’t as much of an income inequality but a competitive inequality. The only way government has figured out how to help the non-competitive is to create a welfare system to offer basic provision for those too ill-equipped to compete in a capitalist system. For those equipped to compete, there seems to be a fairly predictable distribution of wealth based on individual degrees of intellectual competence. To try and alter that natural hierarchical distribution is far beyond any government’s ability unless you are striving to make everyone as equally poor as those who are intellectually non-competitive.

December 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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