I’ve just added a few new books to my reading list, specifically the following:
- The Optimism Gap: The I’m Ok-They’re Not Syndrome and the Myth of American Decline
- Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security
- Aspirin : The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug
They may seem relatively unrelated, but there is, in fact, a specific connection that fascinates me with regards to all three topics.
As I see it, there are several trends which are likely to drive instability around the world over the next century, which have the potential to have grave consequences unless sound policy is put in place to address them. I’ll highlight them here in no particular order.
1. Medical Science and the Aging of the World’s Population: It is considered common knowledge that the age of the populations in developed countries is rising. What is less-discussed but no less important is that those trends are not limited solely to developed nations. World population growth is slowing, and the population, according to some trend analysis, may even peak by mid-century. Considering economic growth has throughout human history been dependent upon a larger labor pool available in future generations than the current, what impact will this have going forward? How has medical science resulted in these developments, and what future medical discoveries will further influence these trends?
2. Education: Every generation in the United States has, on the whole, been better educated than the preceding one. This has been a cornerstone of economic development and innovation within the United States, leading to future generations being better off than their predecessors. Some studies, though, are indicating that the pace of educational development is slowing in the US, while education in other parts of the world, namely China and India, may come to surpass the achievements within the US in the next few generations. What impact will this have, specifically when the US has long felt it is the leader in inquiry and innovation?
3. Globalization: Wtih population shifts and educational policies being what they are, how will low-wage payers rise within the socio-economic system. Education has long been considered the primary path to achieving middle-class status, yet the downward pressure on wages within the US, particularly among the industrial and low-end service sectors (though this is spreading to higher-end service sector jobs as well), will likely only further expand the distance between the haves and have-nots. Furthermore, as the current trend toward an “ownership society”, with all its hubbaloo about valuing weath over work, at the expense of the institutions which have provided a measure of financial security to Americans, continues, what will the net effect be? Will class mobility continue to decrease, resulting in a permanent underclass?
4. Security & Defense: Will fourth generation warfare (4GW), defined roughly as war waged by stateless actors, overwhelm our very centralized defense institution primarily focused on pork rather than results? Groups such as Colombian drug traffickers, al Qaeda, and various ethnic groups across the Middle East and Africa, all provide clear examples of 4GW conflicts. What policies are necessary to prevent and end 4GW conflicts? How does globalization affect these conflicts, particularly as individuals’ loyalties shift from nation-states to smaller, like-minded groups as the information age progresses. How will class mobility, or the lack thereof, affect security and stability in the US?
My concern for these issues run deep, because I fear that these trends, left unchecked, may overwhelm the development of civilazation that has progressed to such an amazing point. I also fear that not enough people, particularly decision makers, are sufficiently concerned about them. Some, such as true reform of the defense department and sufficient funding for education, particularly higher education, are within our control. Others are less clear, but sufficient thought should be given to them nonetheless.