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Foreign Affairs

Ten Important Trends

March 16th, 2011 // 10:42 am @

The obvious big trend right now is that oil prices threaten to reverse economic recovery across the globe.[i] The recent problems with nuclear power in Japan only promise to exacerbate the oil crisis. And the concern about a second mortgage bubble lingers.[ii] Food and other retail prices are increasing at alarming levels while unemployment rates remain high. In addition, some trends and current affairs promise to significantly influence the years ahead despite receiving little coverage in the nightly news. Here are ten such trends that every American should know about:

  1. “In the wake of the financial crisis, the United States is no longer the leader of the global economy, and no other nation has the political and economic leverage to replace it.”[iii] Increased international conflicts are ahead.
  2. The new e-media is revolutionizing communication and fueling actual revolutions from the Middle East to North Korea.[iv]
  3. The new media is also differentiated by both political views and class divisions,[v] meaning that people of different views hardly ever listen to each other. This is creating more divisiveness in society.
  4. In response to the rise of the Tea Parties, some top leaders of American foreign policy feel that Washington must find ways to promote a “liberal and cosmopolitan world order” and simultaneously “find some way to satisfy their angry domestic constituencies…”[vi] The disconnect between the American citizenry and elites continues to increase. So does the wage disparity between American elites and everyone else.[vii]
  5. The evidence suggests that “teams, not individuals, are the leading force behind entrepreneurial startups.”[viii] This has been a topic of debate for some time, and a new book (The Invention of Enterprise by Landes, Mokyr and Baumol[ix]) outlines the history of entrepreneurship from ancient to modern times.
  6. As Leah Farrall put it, “Al Qaeda is stronger today than when it carried out the 9/11 attacks. Accounts that contend that it is on the decline treat the central al Qaeda organization separately from its subsidiaries and overlooks its success in expanding its power and influence through them.”[x]
  7. One trend is outlined clearly by a new book title: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.[xi]
  8. In contrast to popular wisdom, democracy and modernization are significantly increasing the influence of religion in many developing regions around the world.[xii]
  9. More people are using Facebook to connect more with their children—in one survey this included 64% of those surveyed.[xiii]
  10. While governments—at national, provincial/state and local levels—are increasingly strapped for cash and struggling to balance budgets and service looming debts, many multinational corporations “sit on enormous stockpiles of cash…”[xiv] This reality is giving strength to the argument in some circles that the future of governance should be put in the hands of corporations rather than outdated dependence on inefficient government.[xv]

[i] “The 2011 oil shock,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

[ii] Consider the ideas in “Bricks and slaughter,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

[iii] Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini, “A G-Zero World,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[iv] See James Fallows, “Learning to Love the New Media” and Robert S. Boynton, “North Korea’s Digital Underground,” The Atlantic, April 201.

[v] Op. cit., Fallows.

[vi] See Walter Russell Mead, “The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[vii] See “Gaponomics,” The Economist, March 12th, 2011.

[viii] See Martin Ruef, The Entrepreneurial Group, 2011, Kauffman.

[ix] 2011, Kauffman.

[x] Leah Farrall, “How al Qaeda Works,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[xi] By Sherry Turkle, 2011, Basic Books.

[xii] See book reviews, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[xiii] Redbook, April 2011.

[xiv] See op. cit., Bremmer and Roubini.

[xv] See the following: Shell Scenarios; “Tata sauce,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011; Adam Segal, Advantage: How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations; and “Home truths,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

Category : Blog &Current Events &Economics &Entrepreneurship &Family &Foreign Affairs &Government &Independents &Information Age &Politics &Science

Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of History

February 14th, 2011 // 12:31 pm @

*Note: If you like this article, you’ll love Oliver’s latest book, FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

I look at the young protesters who gathered in downtown Amman today, and the thousands who gathered in Egypt and Tunis, and my heart aches for them. So much human potential, but they have no idea how far behind they are—or maybe they do and that’s why they’re revolting.

“Egypt’s government has wasted the last 30 years—i.e., their whole lives—plying them with the soft bigotry of low expectations: ‘Be patient. Egypt moves at its own pace, like the Nile.’ Well, great. Singapore also moves at its own pace, like the Internet.” —Thomas L. Freidman

A World of Demonstrations

In the fall of 2010 I listened to a famous French author speaking as a guest on a television talk show. He expressed concern with the Tea Party in the United States and wondered how democracy could survive “such a thing.”

A few weeks later his own nation was shut down by rioting protestors—middle class managers and professionals burning cars in the streets and throwing homemade pop bottle firebombs.

I wondered if he had revised his worries about what he called Tea Party “extremism.” In the U.S. the peaceful demonstrations were much more civil and positive (and, as it turns out, effective) than their French counterparts.

In the last year we’ve witnessed demonstrations, protests, and even a few violent riots across the globe—from Greece to Ireland, Paris to Washington, Iran to Cairo, and beyond. It is interesting to see how the left and right in the U.S. have responded.

The left welcomed demonstrations against governments that were run by the privileged class in Iran, Greece, Ireland, Egypt, China and even France. Instead of feeling threatened by such uprisings, they tended to see them as the noble voice of humanity yearning for freedom from oppression.

In contrast, they saw marches and demonstrations from the American right as somehow dangerous to democracy. In such a view, protests are owned by the left and those on the right aren’t allowed to use such techniques—they are supposed to better behaved.

In contrast, the right tended to view recent right-leaning town meetings and D.C. demonstrations in the United States as progressive, while viewing the French, Irish, Greek and Middle East protests with critical eyes.

The old meaning of “conservative” was to simply want things to stay the same, and in world affairs many American conservatives seem to prove this definition.

An uprising in Iran or Egypt, as much as one might identify with the people’s desire for freedom, feels threatening and disturbing to many on the right.

The Cycles

The demonstrations and the diverse ways of viewing them is a natural result of a major shift we are experiencing in the world. Strauss and Howe called it “The Fourth Turning,” a great cyclical shift from an age of long-term peace and prosperity to a time of challenge and on-going crises.

We have experienced many such shifts in history (e.g. the American revolutionary era, the Civil War period, the era of Great Depression and World War II), but that doesn’t soften the blow of experiencing it firsthand in our generation.

Following the cycles of history, we have lived through the great catalyst (9/11) which brought on the new era of challenge, just like earlier generations faced their catalytic events (e.g. the Boston Tea Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, or the Stock Market crash of 1929).

We are now living in a period of high stress and high conflict, just as our forefathers did in the tense periods of the 1770s, 1850s and 1930s. If the cycles hold true in our time, we can next expect some truly major crisis—the last three being the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first shots of the Civil War, and the fighting at Lexington and Concord.

These realities are part of our genetic and psychic history, even if we haven’t personally researched the trends and history books. We seem to “know” that challenges are ahead, and so we worry about the latest world and national news event.

“Will this ignite the fire?” “Will this change everything?” “Is this it—the start of major crisis?” Conservatives, liberals, independents—we nearly all ask these questions, if only subconsciously.

Conservatives tend to believe that major crisis will come from the “mismanagement of the left,” while liberals are inclined to think the problems will be caused by the extremism of the right.

Independents have a tendency to feel that our challenges will come from both Republicans and Democrats—either working together in the wrong ways or getting distracted from critical issues while fighting each other at precisely the wrong time.

Add to this strain the fact that we are simultaneously shifting from the industrial to the information age, and it becomes understandable that the pressure is building in many places in today’s world.

The shift from the agricultural age to the industrial age brought the Civil War, Bismarck’s Wars (known to many in Europe as the first great war—a generation before World War I), and the Asian upheaval as it shifted from the age of warlords to modern empires.

Today we have mostly forgotten how drastic such a change was, and how traumatically it impacted the world.

The Egypt Crisis

The bad news is: if the cycles and trends of history hold, we will likely relive such world-changing events in the decades ahead. As for Egypt, our reactions are telling us more about ourselves than about the Arab world.

Knee-jerk liberalism thrills at another people rising up against authoritarianism but worries that the extreme religious nature of some of the militants will bring the wrong outcomes.

Knee-jerk conservatism reinforces its view that the middle east is the world’s problem area, that we should just get out of that region (or get a lot more involved), and that stability is more important than things like freedom and opportunity for the Egyptian people.

Deep thinkers from all political views see that we now live in the age of demonstrations. The worldwide shift from decades of relative peace and prosperity to a time of recurring crises is putting pressure on people everywhere.

Some protest the reduction of government pensions and programs as nations try to figure out how to get their financial houses in order. Others demonstrate against governments that respond to major economic crises with increased spending, stimulus and government programs.

Still others riot against authoritarian governments that haven’t allowed the people a true democratic voice in the direction of their nation or society.

When we shift from an industrial era of peace and prosperity to an information-age epoch of crisis and challenge, people in all walks of life feel the pressure and anxiety of change. This manifests itself in relationship, organizational, financial and family stress, as well as cultural, class, religious, political and societal tensions. We are witnessing all of these in this generation.

Egypt may spark a major world crisis, and indeed many feel that the Egyptian challenge is the biggest foreign policy crisis of Obama’s presidency. As Thomas L. Friedman put it, on a more global scale:

“There is a huge storm coming, Israel. Get out of the way.”

President Bush’s supporters are using Egypt to bolster the view that Bush’s attempts to establish democracy in the Arab world was wise foresight, and Obama supporters hope that a re-democratized Egypt can stand as “beacon to the region.”

If the Egyptian uprising becomes the start of pan-Arabism led by the Muslim Brotherhood (or something like it), this will certainly bring significant changes to the Middle East and to international relations across the board.

On the other hand, a similar outcome could result from a totalitarian crackdown that extinguishes the will of the Egyptian people to fight for legitimate reform. The most likely result may be what has happened more often recently: the replacement of authoritarian government with a powerful oligarchy ruling the nation.

The American Crisis

How the United States responds to any of these scenarios, or whatever else may happen, will have a significant impact on world policy.

Add to this at least two concerns: Serious inflation is already a growing reality and increasing danger, and many are watching to see the impact on the price of oil on our economy.

If the cost of gasoline goes above $5 or $6 or, say, $9 per gallon in the U.S., what will happen to 9.6% unemployment, state and local governments that are already close to bankruptcy, and a reeling economy just barely emerging from the Great Recession?

If the Egypt Crisis doesn’t ignite a major world or American crisis, something else will. That’s the reality of our place in the cycles of history. Challenges are ahead for our nation.

This is true in any generation, but it is even more pronounced in the generations where we shift from an era of peace and prosperity to an epoch of crisis and challenge. As we also move into the information age, we have our work cut out for us.
Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote:

“A new civilization is emerging in our lives. This new civilization brings with it new family styles; changed ways of working, loving and living; a new economy; new political conflicts. Millions are already attuning their lives to the rhythms of tomorrow. Others, terrified of the future, are engaged in a desperate, futile flight into the past and are trying to restore the dying world that gave them birth. The dawn of this new civilization is the single most explosive fact of our lifetimes. It is the central event—the key to understanding the years immediately ahead.”

The good news is that in such times of challenge we have the opportunity to significantly improve the world in important ways.

The Revolutionary era brought us the Constitution and the implementation of free enterprise and a classless society, the Civil War ended slavery, and the World War II era brought us into the industrial age with increasing opportunity for social equity and individual prosperity.

Freedom, free enterprise, increased caring and more widespread economic opportunities are likely ahead if we as a society refocus on the principles that work. Liberals, conservatives and independents have a lot to teach each other in this process, and we all have a lot to learn.

The biggest danger is that the age of demonstrations will lead to an age of dominance by elites—in Egypt, in Europe, in Asia, and in North America. Unfortunately, popular demonstrations are most often followed by the increased power of one elite group or another.

Though this is the worst-case scenario, it is also a leading trend in our times. In contrast, only a society led by the people can truly be free, and only such a future can turn our challenging era into a truly better world.

Each of us must take responsibility for the future, rather than leaving the details to experts. Many citizens in Egypt are trying to do this—for good or ill.

In America, we need more regular citizens to be leaders so we can meet this generational challenge as our forefathers did theirs—leaving posterity with greater freedom and opportunity.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Current Events &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &History &Liberty &Politics

The Big Crisis is Coming

December 2nd, 2010 // 4:00 am @

Note: If you like this article, you’ll love Oliver’s latest book, FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny, which addresses the future of American and what to do about it.

Click Here to Download a PDF of This Article

By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. Sometime between now and then the catastrophe will come. It will come with amazing swiftness.” -David Brooks, New York Times Columnist

A big crisis is coming. From the story of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” to the crime of calling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, our society has a pretty low tolerance for alarmists.

They’re irresponsible, sensational, not to be believed.

One sure way to be ejected from the “Inner Ring” is to promote theories of conspiracy, to predict disaster or to in any other way suggest that our Progressivist trajectory is gravely off-course.

But what about when there is a wolf? Well, sure; the idea that there really is a wolf has agitated the fevered minds of crackpots and fringies since–forever.

And their animated efforts to alert the world to the threats that supposedly imperil us, to “wake us up” (regardless of our disinterest or our criticism) is perhaps the best indication that there’s no merit in their warning–or so says popular opinion.

This makes it all the more curious, awkward and, dare we say, disturbing when a chorus of alarms is heard coming from the established intelligentsia, from the acknowledged “experts” and thought leaders–the most credible voices in The Great Conversation.

And this is exactly what is taking place right now.

History is, of course, full of cranks and doomsayers, and the wise learn to talk in moderated tones and look at the evidence with clinical objectivity.

And yet in our time even many of our most objective, credible, detached, understated, methodical and consistently rational thinkers are predicting significant difficulties ahead–often in dramatic and even sensational terms.

Twenty Quotes Every American Should Read Today

For example, consider the following thoughts from some of our most tempered and prudent authorities. I have arranged these in a Top 20 list of great quotes; all 20 are an important commentary on our modern world and the decade ahead.

1. Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it’s a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks.”

2. William Strauss & Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning

Wherever we’re headed, America is evolving in ways most of us don’t like or understand. Individually focused yet collectively adrift, we wonder if we’re headed toward a waterfall . . . a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.”

3. David Brooks, The New York Times

Elections come and go, but the United States is still careening toward bankruptcy. By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. Sometime between now and then the catastrophe will come. It will come with amazing swiftness. The bond markets are with you until the second they are against you. When the psychology shifts and the fiscal crisis happens, the shock will be grievous: national humiliation, diminished power in the world, drastic cuts and spreading pain.”

4. Niall Ferguson, Newsweek

This is how empires decline. It begins with a debt explosion.”

5. Roger C. Altman & Richard N. Haas, Foreign Affairs

The U.S. government is incurring debt at a historically unprecedented and ultimately unsustainable rate… As the world’s biggest borrower and the issuer of the world’s reserve currency, the United States will not be allowed to spend ten years leveraging itself to these unprecedented levels. If U.S. leaders do not act to curb this debt addiction, then the global capital markets will do so for them, forcing a sharp and punitive adjustment in fiscal policy. The result will be an age of American austerity. No category of federal spending will be spared, including entitlements and defense. Taxes on individuals and businesses will be raised. Economic growth, both in the United States and around the world, will suffer. There will be profound consequences, not just for Americans’ standard of living but also for U.S. foreign policy and the coming era of international relations.”

6. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs

The Congressional Budget Office calculates that total government debt will reach 100 percent of GDP by 2023…”

7. Roger C. Altman & Richard N. Haas, Foreign Affairs

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff paper comes closer to the mark by projecting that federal debt could equal total GDP as soon as 2015. These levels approximate the relative indebtedness of Greece and Italy today. Leaving aside the period during and immediately after World War II, the United States has not been so indebted since recordkeeping began, in 1792… State and local governments also owe huge amounts, on the order of $3 trillion.”

8. Don Peck, The Atlantic

The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults… It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities… Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture and the character of our society for years come…The economy now sits in a hole 10 million jobs deep…[and] we need to produce roughly 1.5 million jobs a year–about 125,000 a month–just to keep from sinking deeper. Even if the economy were to immediately begin producing 600,000 jobs a month–more than double the pace of the mid-to-late 1990s, when job growth was strong–it would take roughly two years to dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in… But the U.S. hasn’t seen that pace of sustained employment growth in more than 30 years…”

9. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything

We are awaiting the new global founding Fathers and Mothers who will frame an integral system of governance that will call us to our more encompassing future . . .”

10. Andreas Kluth, The Economist

And yet, who would be California’s ‘Founding Fathers’? Thomas Jefferson, absent from Philadelphia as a minister to France, called the 55 delegates chosen by the states ‘demi-gods’. These were men such as James Madison, deeply versed in Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Montesquieu, who preferred the word ‘republic’ to ‘democracy’ for fear that the latter might evoke the chaos of ancient Athens… But can lay people be expected to assume the responsibilities of a Madison?”

11. Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

We are in a country in debt and in decline–not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political systems seem incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities.”

12. Larry King, Larry King Live

A recent CNN Opinion Research Poll [asked]: ‘Do you think the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses a threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary people?’ Fifty-six percent of Americans said yes.”

13. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs

In 2010, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of respondents thought the United States was in decline, and only 19 percent trusted the government to do what is right most of the time. In 1964, by contrast, three-quarters of the American public said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time.”

14. David Brooks, The New York Times

The essence of America is energy–the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans to build the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts…The task ahead is to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin. We know what it will take…The Democratic Party…does not seem to be up to that coming challenge (neither is the Republican Party).”

15. Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

The world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism . . . The distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance.”

16. Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles

We are entering a period, however, when very small numbers of persons, operating with the enormous power of modern computers, biogenetics, air transport, and even small nuclear weapons, can deal lethal blows to any society. Because the origin of these attacks can be effectively disguised, the fundamental bases of the State will change . . . We are entering a fearful time, a time that will call on all our resources, moral as well as intellectual and material.”

17. Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

I heard a phrase being bandied around here by non-Americans–about the United States–that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before: ‘political instability.’ [This] was a phrase normally reserved for countries like Russia or Iran or Honduras. But now, an American businessman remarked to me, ‘people ask me about political instability in the U.S. We’ve become unpredictable to the world’….We’re making people nervous.”

18. Joe Klein, Time

Many Americans also were confused and frustrated by the constant state of war since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But for every occasion they raised Afghanistan, they mentioned China 25 times…’The great fear is about American supremacy,’ said Anne Mariucci…’We all believed that if you followed the basic compact, worked hard and played by the rules, that we’d have the highest standard of living in the world. And we were always on the front edge of the next new technology–but we’re not anymore. We seem to be mired in mediocrity while China is steaming ahead.'”

19. Ken Kurson, Esquire

Today’s brutal economy and credit freeze should have most entrepreneurs running for cover, or at last signing up for the 99 weeks of unemployment our Congress has generously provided, courtesy of our kids and grandkids. Instead, many steel-stomached small business people are using this crisis as an opportunity to expand.”

20. Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave

There are powerful reasons for long-rang optimism, even if the transitional years immediately ahead are likely to be stormy and crisis ridden.”

One More Thing: The Rise of China

On the issue of China, Peggy Noonan said in The Wall Street Journal:

People are freshly aware of the real-world implications of a $1.6 trillion deficit, of a $14 trillion debt. It will rob American of its economic power, and eventually even of its ability to defend itself. Militaries cost money. And if other countries own our debt, don’t they in some new way own us? If China holds enough of your paper, does it also own some of your foreign policy? Do we want to find out?”

Also consider these quotes from my book FreedomShift:

Note that China, the second largest economy in the world, has huge savings (unlike the former Soviet Union or the current United States) and is a major buyer of U.S. debt. China has three of the world’s four largest banks, the two largest insurance companies and the second largest stock market. With all this, the Communist Party remains in control; it also remains firmly communistic in philosophy and is, if possible, increasingly totalitarian.”

China has a huge surplus of government and also private savings, and it wants to invest in the United States. Indeed it is our largest creditor now. Other nations may also be persuaded to keep supporting our spending habits. But one has to wonder why our philosophical opponent (communist China) wants to invest so much. Are its motives pure? What if they’re not? Is it a simple profit motive? What if it’s something more?”

And as Thomas Friedman said in the New York Times:

What does it mean when China’s communist business environment is more inviting to U.S. companies, more conducive to their growth, than the United States? When the regulations and taxes in the U.S. make doing business in China attractive? The U.S. now ranks #40 out of forty industrialized nations in appeal to business.”

As noted by Samuel P. Huntington and summarized by Richard K. Betts in Foreign Affairs:

Huntington also presents data showing China as the only major power that has been more violent than Muslim states.”

Columnist for The Atlantic (and 30-year expert living in Asia) James Fallows has argued that America can find ways to work with China so the 21st Century doesn’t become a time of big-power conflict, but few if any experts believe that the U.S. can ultimately keep competing with China unless we make major improvements at home.

It’s Coming

A big crisis is coming, and we need to prepare. I am an optimist, and I am convinced that the best years in America and the world are ahead of us.

I am also an idealist: I believe that we should clarify what we want for the world’s future and get to work creating it–however difficult the task.

As a realist I am convinced that unless certain things change very quickly (and perhaps no matter what we do) we are facing some major challenges ahead. Every generation faces its share of problems and gets to choose whether to be beaten down by them or to turn them into opportunities.

All of this said, my optimism still wins out. Our best is yet to come. And it will almost surely come as we face and overcome the major challenges ahead.

What are these challenges? I have no crystal ball, and my only certainty is that they will surely come–and probably very soon.

Many nations have been at a point with conditions similar to those we now face, and there is a preponderance of historical evidence that certain kinds of problems dominate in such circumstances.

The cycles and patterns of history indicate four major types of challenges for our situation.

Four Possible Catastrophes

Four possible catastrophes are suggested by historical analysis. Of course, any foray into prediction is based on educated guesses, and the one sure bet is that the future will present a number of surprises.

Along with the inevitable shocks that will no doubt disturb all forecasts, one or more of these great challenges is likely to come again soon.

These scenarios are a good indication of what we should expect during the next decade:

1. Major Economic Problems

The Great Recession does not qualify as a major economic collapse, though nearly all the experts are convinced that it came very close to becoming one. An economic depression of considerably greater magnitude may be ahead.

2. Health Pandemic

Modern nations are extremely concerned about this terrifying possibility. It is a telling foreshadow that insurance companies are taking this threat very seriously and preparing accordingly. Historically, the Black Plague was as devastating as any war–more than most; indeed, it reportedly killed a third of the population in many parts of Europe.

3. An Unexpected Major Crisis

Examples might include a major volcanic event, earthquakes, meteors, drastic environmental shifts or other so-called “acts of God.”

Of course, the unexpected can come at any point in the historical cycles, but in times like ours these randomly occurring disasters are especially devastating because coinciding with one or more of the other three challenges is so likely. In the age of WMDs, such catastrophes could be manmade–in all of history, there is no credible example of weapons being created and remaining unused.

4. Major War that Threatens the Homeland

The experts seem to think that few enemies in the world have the potential to challenge America in this way, but even if this is true the reality is that any of the other major crises would most likely be quickly followed by major warfare.

Things can change very quickly, as history has proven. We are at the point in history (following a major boom in the 90s and then 9/11, the longest war in U.S. history and the Great Recession crash) that we are weary of crisis.

We want the challenges to be over, and we are thus particularly vulnerable. It is at such points that the really big problems come–like Pearl Harbor after a roaring twenties boom ended by the stock market crash in 1929 and then twelve long years of crushing depression.

Turning Crisis to Opportunity

We’ve gotten a little soft after several generations of prosperity and entitlement. It’s time for us to cheer up, man up and turn our coming challenges into opportunities.

America’s biggest successes came in times of challenge: the Constitution came out of a time of war and economic downturn, slavery was ended in another era of war and economic depression, and the Greatest Generation stopped Hitler in a period of world war following the Great Depression.

The patterns of history suggest, and the intelligentsia from across the globe concur, that we are headed for another such time period; in fact, we may well be into it already.

The challenges won’t be identical, of course, but they will likely be similar. Realism says our generation will have as many challenges as any other, and optimism says we can turn the coming challenges into remaking America and the world in the best and most important ways.

Whether we succumb to the challenges ahead or turn them into America’s best years depends on the American people.

If we stand back and wait for our leaders to solve our problems, the crises ahead will almost certainly go very badly for America.

If we just pretend everything is fine (or that our leaders will fix everything without our help) until the crisis is fully upon us, we miss valuable preparation time.

If, on the other hand, we resurrect our identity as a nation of grassroots leaders, entrepreneurial thinkers and citizen-statesmen, we will use the coming difficulties to significantly improve the world we pass on to posterity.

Well, Chicken Little–it turns out that the sky is falling. Will we be prepared?

Category : Current Events &Economics &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &Leadership

The New America

November 26th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

The Age of Dependence

We have recently changed as a people, and as a nation. I’m not sure exactly when the change occurred, but we are living in the new reality it has created.

On the one hand, we have always been a nation dedicated to positive change. America was founded by breaking from the old world and establishing a new model of society and governance, and the progressive impulse has guided America ever since.

On the other hand, we have usually defined change in the positive sense, and when progress has come it has always been based on a nation of freethinking citizens and courageous leaders.

Today, in contrast, we have become, to a large extent, a nation of followers. For the past three generations, we have been taught to depend upon experts.

This is a stunning break from the founding and pioneering generations who raised their children to depend upon their own wisdom, initiative and grit.

This dependence on experts is as devastating to freedom and as potentially controlling as totalitarian governments, caste and class systems, and the wealthy withholding education from the masses.

It is an applicational flaw in modernism that is persistently leaching freedom from historically open nations around the world.

In addition to unhealthy dependence on experts, we have been conditioned in the West to think like reductionists—only accepting logical, concrete and proven answers.

This invalidates our “gut” feelings about right and wrong and leaves us more dependent on the accepted authority. It puts the “experts” above the citizens in determining America’s future.

But the biggest problem with our reductionism is that we are Dependent Reductionists: we consider something to be logical and proven when the experts say so.

Ironically, this kind of reductionism is actually the opposite of reductionism; it is, in fact, a personal rejection among citizens of our own logic and common sense and instead an ignorant reliance on the leadership of our “betters” in academia, the media, economics and government.

An Age of Epicurus

Add to this a third major characteristic of modern Americans: we are nearly all epicureans, meaning that we want life to feel good.

We expect childhood, youth, education, health, career, finances, romance, family, entertainment and everything else in life to basically go well for us. Always.

And if this ever fails, we angrily blame the government, our employers, our parents or someone else for not doing their job. If everyone did his part, we now believe, pretty much everything would go well for us; and if we’re not content, comfortable and at ease, someone is surely to blame.

So then, most Americans are now Epicurean Dependent Reductionists: We want the experts to make everything good for us, we instinctively believe that they will, and we expect them to use science, logic, research, planning and whatever else is necessary to ensure that all goes well.

After all, they’re the experts. And government officials are expected to do the most, since they are experts with power.

This is the New America.

Of course, there is more to America than these three characteristics, but the new influence of widespread Dependence, Dependent Reductionism and Epicureanism indicates a different kind of future than most Americans seem to want.

Time magazine chronicled Joe Klein’s visit across America in the fall of 2010. Klein talked to hundreds of regular Americans, asking them questions about America and the world and listening closely to their answers, concerns, thoughts and worries. What he discovered is a good overview of modern America.

He found voters to be more eloquent, unpredictable and candid than the candidates. He wrote: “There was a unanimous sense that Washington was broken beyond repair.”

Americans are also upset with big business, especially big finance.

They feel that Washington is out of touch. For example, the citizens mentioned concerns about China 25 times for each time they mentioned Afghanistan.

Liberals are frustrated with Obama; but surprisingly, conservatives are less angry about Obama and more disappointed.

They wanted him to succeed, to help fix the economy. But they don’t feel he has done much.

The growing nanny state drives them crazy. They hate the stimulus and bailouts, and they are confused about the health care bill.

They wonder why the Obama Administration focused on these things instead of jobs. They just don’t understand why the big things — jobs — are being ignored. This infuriates many Americans, both liberals and conservatives.

Klein called the regular Americans he met, on the whole, “rowdy and proud, ignorant and wise.”

The Lost Cartesian Age

Tocqueville said that Americans in the 1830s were nearly all Cartesians, but noted that most of them didn’t know that the word “Cartesian” means a follower of the philosophy promoted by Descartes.

This philosophy was based on not believing any of the experts, but rather thinking about things independently and reaching your own conclusions.

Indeed, a Cartesian considers himself the only real expert on things that are important to him. She listens closely to the thoughts of others and deeply considers all views, and then arrives at her own conclusions.

And for Americans, as Tocqueville witnessed, individual citizens were the highest “experts” on all things related to government.

In Europe, he wrote, the people loved the great artists. In America few idealized the great artists but nearly all youth and adults participated personally in art — paintings, plays, singing, and so on.

The same applied in politics. Instead of following great political icons or parties, the American electorate was deeply and personally involved in the ongoing issues.

The Americans of the 1830s could easily be called Independent Cartesian Innovators.

They expected life to be full of challenges, and they didn’t want their government or anyone else to solve their problems. They wanted to be adults, to meet their own challenges, to solve their own problems.

They believed that the government had its role, but they wanted the freedoms that could only come by keeping the state limited. Again (and this bears constant repeating in our times), they wanted to live life as adults, facing the challenges of the world and overcoming them on their own or with their families and communities.

If problems arose, they didn’t blame others. They were too busy getting to work on solutions.

When they failed, they suffered. Then they claimed that the lessons they had learned through suffering were worth the failure, even as they intently and optimistically went on to new and better projects.

This attitude led them across the oceans, into the wilderness, to freedom from the Monarchy and the old countries, across the plains, and to the moon itself. Along the way, they began the process of conquering the internal frontiers of slavery, chauvinism, bigotry and racism. They made mistakes, but they refused to give up. They kept trying.

A New Age Ahead?

Today, far too often, we just give up. We wait for the experts to do what needs to be done. And, unfortunately, too frequently the experts and officials want us to do nothing.

They believe in the experts as much as everyone else. They too often see citizens as children to be cared for, not adults to be left alone to deal with their own lives as they see fit.

But when a nation becomes a society of followers instead of leaders and adopts a culture of dependency and complaining instead of citizens who are at least trying, flaws and all, to innovatively make the world truly better, freedom is in danger.

We have reached a point in history when this generation must take a stand. If we want to pass on freedom and prosperity to our children and grandchildren, we need to move toward an attitude of innovation, independent thinking, responsibility, resiliency, and taking personal risk to make the world better.

It is time to stop talking so much about what kind of leaders we want, to give less lip service to what Washington or Wall Street or Hollywood should do, and to act a lot more like citizens who actually deserve freedom.

It is time for all of us in America, once again, to change. And this time the change needs to earn the kind of future we truly want.

The first step is a simple change in attitude from dependent on experts to truly thinking for ourselves and seeing regular citizens (not political or economic professionals) as the real experts on American government, freedom and the future.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founderof the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Citizenship &Culture &Current Events &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &History &Leadership &Liberty

America’s New Grand Strategy

November 23rd, 2010 // 4:00 am @

The United States is currently experiencing a Grand Strategy Crisis — and the most powerful nation in the world since the Roman Empire better get it right.

Such a crisis typically comes along once a generation, when the nation drops its old grand strategy and selects a new one.

Unfortunately, this significant change, which has happened three times in U.S. history and will likely occur again in the next two decades, is hardly noticed by the large majority of the people.

It affects them in many ways, but most people don’t know about it until it’s too late to change.

For those who lead a nation, the grand strategy is more than a set of guidelines or even a list of goals or objectives.

The grand strategy is a vision of where a nation wants to go, of what it seeks to accomplish in the world — a vision shared by its decision-making elite.

A grand strategy is the guiding principle for foreign policy and nearly all international relations for a nation.

“How” to achieve the grand strategy is a subject of ongoing debate among the elites in any free nation, but “what” the strategy should be is only considered on those rare occasions when a nation decides to drastically shift gears.

In such times, big changes occur. In the United States we have shifted grand strategies three times:

  1. between 1776 and 1796, from the Revolutionary War through the ratification of the Constitution;
  2. between 1856 and 1876, from the rise of Lincoln through the Civil War and into Reconstruction;
  3. and again from 1929 to 1949 during the Great Depression and World War II.

Past Grand Strategies

In each case, once a grand strategy was adopted, national leaders pursued it until world events required significant changes.

The American Founding generation rejected the Royalist grand strategy of increasing the power, wealth and empire of the Crown, and instead adopted a grand strategy of Constitutionalism, also known as Republicanism or Manifest Destiny.

This grand strategy held two major themes: First, the founders expected the United States to expand naturally and spread the new American system of free, limited, representative government from the Atlantic states all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Secondly, through example, they wanted the nations of the world to see the success of this free model and embrace it.

This grand strategy was not always implemented perfectly, but it guided American policy.

After the Civil War, U.S. leaders adopted a strategy of Nationalism: the focus shifted to increasing American national strength and status in the world.

Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were among those who helped pursue this strategic vision.

“America must take its place as a leader of nations,” became the sometimes spoken but always central focus of the U.S. policy elite.

At the end of two devastating world wars and a bleak depression, U.S. decision makers again adopted a new grand strategy — Internationalism.

The focus of this grand strategy was simple: use international organizations, treaties, international diplomacy, conferences and cooperative arrangements to make the world safe for democracy and capitalism.

The idea was to contain communism, keep it from spreading, and simultaneously support the spread of democracy and capitalism as far and wide as possible.

Hopefully, if the strategy worked, communism would not only stop growing but its support around the world would begin to diminish, to be replaced by democratic-capitalism.

In short, the foreign policy history of the United States might be summed up as Constitutionalism, then Nationalism, and finally Internationalism.

Internationalism became woefully outdated in the early 1990s — and the world found out just how outdated on September 11, 2001.

Proposed Grand Strategies

Amazingly, however, few have engaged the current vital discussion about America’s new 21st Century grand strategy.

This is partly because the grand strategy is considered and chosen by the intelligentsia — the average American doesn’t even know what the phrase means.

Another reason the grand strategy is little discussed now is that the electronic media has made any controversial policy a point of major political, partisan and societal conflict.

Few politicians today want to engage the firestorm of announcing a new grand American direction. Still, more of us need to be involved in the conversations that are occurring.

At least five proposals, some explicit and others more informal, have been made which purport to be new grand strategy proposals, but three of them are more tactical than strategic.

First, though it was informally introduced as a strategy, George Bush may have been outlining a grand strategy change in his “Axis of Evil” speech.

Certainly the full eradication of terror is a change in tactics, but to what end? What is the goal of the ongoing war on terror?

If it is to make the world safe for democracy and the spread of capitalism, it is a new tactic for the old strategy of Internationalism.

Besides, to truly end terrorism would require using U.S. might to restructure and redirect the leading terrorist-funding and supporting states in the world, including possibly Saudi Arabia and nuclear powers China and Russia.

Nothing in the “Axis of Evil” speech or since seems to advocate such a strategy. Just beating up on the smallest terrorist states, as much as they may deserve it, leaves terrorism healthy and growing.

Unless the Axis of Evil includes China, Saudi Arabia, former states of the USSR Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and over 20 other nations, a few attacks on weak opponents hardly amounts to a moving, visionary national grand strategy.

And in any case, the Obama Administration has shown little inclination to continue this overarching policy.

A second proposal was outlined by Ambassador Mark Palmer in his book Breaking the Real Axis of Evil (affiliate link). Ambassador Palmer goes well beyond the Bush Administration and suggests that America adopt as its national purpose the ousting of all dictators in the world by 2025.

He argues that dictatorship is the true evil in the world, and that democratic nations led by the United States and its President should strategize and implement a plan to get rid of all dictators everywhere.

He even lists the dictators by name, and gives a suggested tactical approach to ousting each — some peacefully, others by sanction and pressure, still others by force.

This proposal is not really a new strategy, but simply the tactical application of Cold-War Internationalism to a different enemy — dictators instead of communists.

A third strategy was suggested by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He called it a “Strategy of Partnerships” and argued that the world should be kept basically the same as it is — the U.S. at the head with its allies, intervening “decisively to prevent regional conflicts,” and embracing Russia, China, and other powers in a world that increasingly adopts American values.

This would be accomplished by partnerships which put “us at odds with terrorists, tyrants, and others who wish us ill” and to whom “we will give no quarter.” At the same time, we will be “partners with all those who cherish freedom, human dignity, and peace.”

Powell’s “Foreign Affairs” article, published in January of 2004, leaves some glaring questions. The whole point of Internationalism was to encourage partnerships with those seeking freedom and peace.

But Powell said nothing about what the partnership would do, what their goals would be, except the same old Internationalism that we’ve been pursuing since 1945.

Powell’s argument, while claiming to explain the Bush strategy, was actually less of a change than Bush’s “Axis of Evil” or Palmer’s proposal to rid the world of dictators.

All three proposals have pros and cons. But none of them really proposed a new grand strategy for the United States—something at the level of change from Royalism to Constitutionalism, Constitutionalism to Nationalism, or Nationalism to Internationalism.

These first three proposals just redirect, rekindle and rehash (respectively) the grand strategy we’ve followed for 50 years — Internationalism.

Problems with Grand “Tactics”

Generals lose when they fail to learn the lessons of past wars; generals also lose when they attempt to fight new wars with old strategies. This adage applies even more to statesmen.

To put this in context, each time a new grand strategy was needed in American history, many of the leading members of the establishment held on to the past strategy, just as the Clinton and Bush Administrations still pursued the status quo — an international world where the U.S. is top dog and capitalism keeps spreading new markets for U.S. companies.

The bad news is that no nation in history has ever maintained the status quo, even though big powers like Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, France, Spain and Britain all tried.

Nations become top powers by seeking either to change or to obtain something — not by trying to keep things the same.

Big powers only stay big powers when they remake themselves, when they adopt a new grand strategy as needed like Rome and later Britain did.

The U.S. has remade its strategy three times, and all of them came from dealing with the big challenges, not the minor nations.

Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” while there is some truth to its argument, doesn’t take nearly as much courage, grit or will as Reagan’s “evil empire,” FDR’s choice to beat Hitler, Wilson’s “world safe for democracy,” Lincoln’s decision to prove out the founder’s experiment with blood, or the Washington generation’s “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.”

In short, statesmen are needed in the next decade to formulate and implement a grand strategy which requires virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage at Churchillesque, Ghandi-like and Jeffersonian proportions.

Idealism

Two other proposals are more strategic, offering a truly new view of America’s future. Whether or not you like either of these strategies (and many people don’t) they are certainly a new take on things rather than the mere tactical changes of the first three proposals.

A fourth proposed new grand strategy came with the re-entry of Gary Hart into the elite dialogue. He suggested that the best way for America to impact the world, and to remain both free and prosperous, is for the United States to focus on its most primary foundation: being good and promoting the great ideals.

This argument has a long history among Democratic politicians, including perhaps most notably Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, but it hasn’t led the conversation for Democratic presidential candidates since Carter. And among recent Republican presidential nominees only Reagan pushed this theme.

In some ways, this idea rekindles a thesis pushed by the American founding era. If we are a great example of freedom, prosperity and success at home, other nations will want to learn from our model — history shows that this is so.

As they do, the paradigms of freedom, justice, checks and balances and other constitutional ideals, and a sense of unity and liberty will spread.

Simultaneously, our own nation will — by focusing on the basics that truly work — increase our levels of freedom, prosperity, opportunity and wise leadership. We benefit, and so does the world.

Hart is adamant, and I agree with him, that without a refocus on the intangibles that make freedom work — the great ideals of true liberty and justice for all — America will not continue to lead the world because it won’t really deserve to lead.

This is a grand strategy indeed: Make the hard and vital changes to America that would make it truly the best it has ever been. The rest will naturally occur.

Of course, this is not a simple process, but neither is any grand strategy. Some will agree and disagree, as I do, with certain specifics in Hart’s ideas, but as a grand strategy this one has real merit.

“Atlanticism”

A fifth, albeit informal, possible grand strategy seems to be gaining momentum in the Obama Administration. Such a strategy might be called the Atlantic strategy, because it entails making the United States more like the nations of the European Union.

Unlike NATO, which was built on the idea of American leadership with the U.S. and its allies guiding the world, the Atlantic strategy assumes that the parliamentary social-democracy system of Western Europe, especially France and Germany, is the model the United States and other allies of the EU should adopt.

In this view, our courts should build a common body of precedent with Europe and Canada, the focus should be on human rights rather than inalienable rights, and our constitution and institutions should evolve to be less rigidly separated, checked and balanced and more and more like the nations of Europe.

On economic matters, the government would abandon a free enterprise posture and become much more involved in regulating, running and owning businesses. Washington would adopt and run a nationwide industrial policy with the government in charge.

This would allow, the argument goes, the nations of Europe and North America to become more alike and increasingly cooperative.

Eventually, many elites hope, supra-national organizations might even take away some of the more “troubling” sovereign powers of individual nations.

Understandably, few politicians have come right out and suggested this direction. It would certainly cause a firestorm of political backlash.

Many Americans (myself included) would be strongly against this. But the policy and direction of the Obama Administration is definitely in line with such a course.

President Obama’s position on many issues — from health care and national security, the bailouts and stimulus, to financial and environmental policy — has toed this European line. At times it has seemed almost purposely designed to impress European sensibilities.

And, in terms of popularity, it has worked in Europe and much of the world. Indeed, this move toward Europeanism has been the inclination and open objective of many American elites for quite some time.

Unfortunately, in an economy desperately in need of innovation, initiative, leadership among the citizenry, and a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit (since these are the things which promote real and lasting freedom and prosperity), this “Atlantic” grand strategy seems destined, if adopted, to cause a significant American decline.

Finally, the great international-legal thinker Philip Bobbitt has suggested that the future of nations will likely de-emphasize national governments and put more focus on smaller, and possibly even virtual, economically-oriented governments that replace the traditional nation state.

If this does occur, it will not likely be a grand strategy for a long time. Bobbitt sees it growing in influence toward the 2050s, and indeed this may compete to be a future grand strategy shift in a later generation.

Conclusion

More immediately, in the years just ahead the United States will adopt a new Grand Strategy.

The old model of Internationalism, with the U.S. fighting to become and then acting as the world’s sole superpower, supported by its group of allies, is past.

Europe has moved on, and the U.S. and Europe have in many ways moved apart. Simultaneously, a number of places have become growing competitors to U.S. economic dominance, including China, the EU, Canada, Brazil, India, Japan, and others. (We should be carefully studying and considering the grand strategy of these places — perhaps especially China.)

To top off the challenges to Internationalism, the American economy is struggling and the individual states and many businesses are barely hanging on.

If the U.S. is to maintain its prosperity, it must adopt a powerful new grand strategy and then pursue it effectively and courageously. And if it is to maintain and even regain its freedoms, it must simultaneously adopt a good grand strategy and the right one.

I am not at all convinced that any of these five options, or anything else I’ve read on the topic, are the entire answer. I do believe that Hart’s strategy must be part of it.

In any case, it is time for statesmen (including the regular citizen-statesmen of our society) to begin to discover, present and promote the pros and cons of proposed and other possible grand strategies for the 21st Century.

If the patterns of history hold, we have less than 20 years to get the right ideas into the debate and influence the huge choice ahead.

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Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Constitution &Current Events &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &History &Politics &Statesmanship

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