THE CASE FOR OPTIMISM

December 17, 2021

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These days, I hear a lot of pessimism about the future. There are always valid reasons to worry, but I see even more reasons to be really excited.

From across the political spectrum we hear narratives after those left behind, American decline, China is stealing jobs, big corporations destroying democracy. Hopelessness might sell, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

People have been doomsaying about a technology and automation apocalypse for years, and yet unemployment has remained low. We have fewer jobs in some industries and more jobs in others. This is capitalism working as it is supposed to. Markets rise and fall, but the overall trend remains steady growth.

In the USA and across the world, people are now wealthier, healthier (covid notwithstanding), better educated, and freer than ever. There’s a lot of cynicism about the tech industry producing only marginal innovations, and yet Silicon Valley profits indicate that they are producing enormous value.

Many small innovations are adding up to extraordinary growth, and greater well being. The smartphone industry is only 15 years old, and these powerful pocket computers have spread to every corner of the world, connecting even remote villagers in Africa to global financial and labor markets.

New fintech is enabling people to save and invest in communities where that used to be almost out of reach. The private space industry has grown from almost nothing to $100 billion dollars per year in the last few years. New bio technologies like mRNA gave us some of the safest and most effective vaccines of all time, in record speed.

Despite our warts, the American system continues to work. Voter turnout and civic engagement are up. Our society continues to adapt and reinvent itself.

Our capitalist and democratic systems are not perfect. But they have withstood recent stress tests as well as centuries of dramatic change. So I don’t pay much heed to the pessimists. Capitalism and democracy are working, and the future is still bright.

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