Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Playing dice with our future


I have a new column out in Bloomberg. Touch on politics, I've learned, and you get an order of magnitude more comments than you do otherwise, and this is proof again (not that I choose my topics this way). Many of the comments seem particularly vicious, but I did venture to wade into the Tea Party/Government Shut Down saga, so there's no surprise.

The article is motivated by my perception -- right or wrong? -- that many people in the Tea Party movement (and many Republicans in general, perhaps) have a naively safe view of the world. They seem to believe in the inherent superiority of America and the American System -- in American Exceptionalism, if you want -- and find it hard to imagine that we could easily slip way down in the world relative to other nations. This belief persists despite all kinds of statistics showing that our standing in things like education, public health, life expectancy, quality of life, etc. has indeed dropped way down in recent decades.

This kind of naive belief in a guaranteed good future breeds, I think, dangerous complacency regarding current policy. We can reduce taxes, disregard investment in infrastructure, not worry about trying to improve the healthcare system, etc., because we are, after all, NUMBER 1, aren't we! Well no, and keeping standards high in anything from education to communications infrastructure demands investment and hard work, not just slogans and tax breaks. And defaulting on the debt might actually be quite a good way to screw up our economy quite quickly.

Anyway, my article may tries to make this point in an unusual way -- with reference to evolution, adaptation and extinction -- but that's how my brain works. The 239 comments so far make it clear that quite a few people think I'm pretty daft, although roughly half seem to agree.

BTW, for interesting perspective on what lies behind the Tea Party furor, I highly recommend this fascinating article by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times.  The word cloud at the top of this post shows the words used most frequently by people in Tea Party focus groups when talking about the country and Obama. They really seem deeply frightened that Obama is trying to turn the US into a Soviet state where old style (white) Americans won't be welcome and a majority gay/black/hispanic/other immigrant population of slackers will live entirely off government programs. As Edsall notes:
Among Greenberg’s other findings from his focus groups:
  • The participants “are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority.”
  • Republican voters are threatened by Obama and the Democratic Party, but they are angry at their own party leaders. “The problem in D.C. is not gridlock; Obama has won; the problem is Republicans failing to stop him.”
  • Together, evangelicals and Tea Party supporters comprise more than half the party. Moderates, about a quarter of Republicans, “are very conscious of being illegitimate within their own party.”
 I find all of this quite disconcerting. Fear + ignorance generally spells trouble.

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