This article in Foreign Policy points to many encouraging global trends. While you wouldn’t know it from reading the headlines, the chance of dying in an armed conflict is now at its lowest level in history. Longevity continues to improve virtually everywhere. In fact, on almost all measures humanity is progressing in substantive ways that we can all be thankful for.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t grave issues to deal with, but it’s good to put things in perspective. Compared to the challenges of the 20th century–two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War–the problems we face today are not as dire. And we’ll be going at them with much better technology and far more wealth.
Before we can even begin, though, we have to somehow shake off the modern perception that government is ineffective, inefficient, and corrupt. For decades this sentiment has been fostered by the “conservative” movement in the United States; in a huge irony, through incompetence, cronyism and scandals, it’s been demonstrated in spades by the Bush Administration.
Nobody doubts that Washington pursues some wasteful and ridiculous policies: agricultural subsidies and the “war on drugs” topping the list. But there’s no way we can tackle our major problems (like our dependence on foreign oil, and climate change) without a bold and committed government. We know that strong measures need to be taken, but somehow we’re unable to take them.
The core problem, the one we need to solve before we can start solving the other ones, is the fundamental distrust of government.
I just finished reading a book on the building of the atomic bomb during WW II, and I was amazed at the level of coordination that was required. The U.S. government constructed entire cities from scratch; the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people were channeled into a single effort that involved the most advanced science known at the time. Every resource that America could muster went toward the cause. As just one example, the amount of silver needed for the project was so great that it exhausted all the reserves in the entire country; the project was able to borrow the rest from the U.S. Treasury, which it then returned after the war.
The descriptions of the Manhattan Project reminded me, of course, of America’s efforts to put a man on the moon more than two decades later: another shared goal that required government leadership and a huge national investment. It saddens me that this type of government-led project seems so anachronistic today. Instead of a massive project after 9/11 to develop alternatives to oil, both to combat climate change and to weaken the petrol states that support terrorism, we were told to go shopping and tax cuts were showered on the rich.
More than anything, I hope that Americans in 2008 choose a leader who does not believe that government is the enemy. I hope this leader inspires us with a sense of national purpose, and reinstills real pride in government: not as a provider of earmarks and pork, but as the way to channel our incredible ingenuity and reach for the greater good.
Now that would definitely be something to give thanks for.