Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Is The 21st Century Broken?

David Brooks has been pretty depressed by what he sees in the US and in the rest of the world.  He argues that the 21st century is broken in this op-ed.  Most of the article is about the impact of  slower economic growth in the US.  There are two parts to this story.  The first part is about the effect of slower growth on employment.  The second part is an attempt to explain the slower rate of economic growth.  He pulls some explanations from a couple of books that make sense to him, but this is not a problem that lends itself to an easy explanation.  Economists and other social scientists have been trying to put this puzzle together but the problems are easier to see than the solutions.  Its pretty clear that globalization has proceeded more rapidly than the ability of nation states to adapt to many of its consequences.  We have multinational corporations but we don't have an international governance system to cope with the issues that arise from the decisions that they make in pursuit of their individual economic interests.  New technologies have provided us with new products and opportunities but they have also disrupted labor markets and transformed the way we communicate with each other.  There are also numerous failed states and unresolved conflicts in many parts of the world that have added fuel to economic issues and social identity problems in the developed world. 

We have suffered major disruptions other times in our history.  They often create a climate for politicians to exploit.  The clear and present danger we face today is that many of our citizens have lost faith in the ability of our political system to deal the problems that they face.  They have turned to personalities like Donald Trump for a political solutions to a host of complex problems that have no easy solution.  Trump has no real understanding of the issues that we face and the policies that he has tossed around are half baked or foolish.  He has also demonstrated that he can't be trusted to govern our nation or lead the international system that has looked to the US for leadership.  He is more likely to destroy the institutions that we need to improve than he is to fix a system that is not working for many of our citizens.  David Brooks understands this problem and that is what depresses him.  He believes that Donald Trump will self destruct and things may return to normal.  I wish that it were that easy.  Neither of our political parties have been able to focus on the problems that we face.  They appear to be more concerned about gaining political control than they are about anything else.  The Republican Party hopes that they it can take advantage of Donald Trump's presidency to implement conservative policies that are based upon ideological purity.  They are fighting an ideological war that has no relationship to the real problems that we face.  The Party has decided to work with Donald Trump to gain political advantage but it will not be able to contain him.  The battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the primary campaign illustrated the divisions that exist in the Democratic Party about how to deal with problems that we face.  Even if Clinton had won the election she would have faced the gridlock that President Obama had to deal with for eight years.  Our political system is in need of repair.  Its hard to see how we can respond the many serious issues that we and many of our citizens face.

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