Brian Answers: Where Are We Headed?

The next Ask Me Anything question comes from Zeev:

Let’s give you an all encompassing question.

“Where do you see the United States in 20 years?”

Will it still be a world superpower? Or more like the British empire past its prime with waning power over the rest of the world?

Where do you see the US citizens? Happy? Prosperous? are we a Plutocracy? an Oligarchy? how’s the wage gap? how’s our civil rights record looking?

Feel free to include any an all ideas that you have on the future, the previous were just suggestions and not mandates.

The year is 2032, I’m forty-seven years old, Sony’s just released the Playstation 9, and we’ve discovered we’re all living in a computer simulation. What else is new? Of course, nobody knows, but these are my (somewhat) educated guesses.

On the world stage, I think we’ll continue to be a superpower. As I’ve mentioned before, the U.S. spends as much on its military as the next nineteen countries combined, and has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the planet put together. I don’t see that changing drastically anytime soon. The biggest danger I see militarily is that we’ll spread ourselves too thin. However, the quagmires of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the far more successful and cheaper (in blood and money) action in Libya, have hopefully imprinted a distaste for entanglement on our collective psyche – at least for a while.

It does seem likely that our military dominance will become less overwhelming, due to the rise of countries like China, India, and Brazil. We worry a lot about China, and rightly so, but its leaders seem to crave stability more than anything. I don’t see them launching World War III, recent saber-rattling with Japan notwithstanding.

And there are other reasons for hope. In general, the world is slowly, slowly getting more democratic: witness the Arab Spring, the reforms in Burma, and last decade the revolutions in eastern Europe. Democracies tend not to fight each other, so this, too, is a sign of stability. Meanwhile al-Qaeda is weaker than ever – not that it was ever, statistically speaking, much of a threat. Americans on their home turf have always been more likely to be struck by lightning than killed in a terrorist attack.

Enough about geopolitics. What about at home?

For starters, the Republican Party is facing a pair of crises, and they know it. The first is a growing split between the moderates and the Tea Party; the second is demographics. Republicans are overwhelmingly losing the black and Latino vote, which is an ever-growing share of the electorate. I think they’ll find a way to adapt, but that will mean some significant changes to their platform over the next 20 years.

In terms of civil rights, marriage equality is perhaps the major battle of our time, and on that front, we’re making enormous progress. I’ve written about that recently, so I won’t belabor the point here. But I think same-sex marriage will be far less controversial twenty years from now, and thank goodness for that.

I’m painting a rosy picture so far, but of course we do face enormous challenges. Debt continues its long, slow spiral out of control, and despite all the talk recently about reining it in, I haven’t seen much hope that it’s going to happen. Our K-12 schools are failing even as our universities get more expensive. The threat of nuclear war, which has faded since the fall of the Soviet Union, never disappeared – and our drone strikes are winning us few friends in nuclear-armed Pakistan. (Although India is probably a more likely Pakistani target, if it comes to that.) And, of course, we’re still in the midst of a global economic crisis, and humanitarian crises in Syria and elsewhere.

Overall, though, I tend to be broadly optimistic. We’ve survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the Cold War. As problems emerge, we adapt. One way or another, we’ll figure it out. (See, I’m reciting platitudes – take that, dictatorships!)

I’ve written a lot, but of course I’ve necessarily left out a lot. I haven’t even mentioned privacy concerns or the exponential growth of technology. But my time and your attention are limited, so I’ll cut it short.

What do you think about the question or my answer? Leave me a comment!

Tomorrow I’ll answer Jo Eberhardt‘s question: “What is the one question you wouldn’t answer honestly, no matter what?”

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2 responses to “Brian Answers: Where Are We Headed?

  1. Thanks for the answer Brian. I guess you are much more optimistic than me. I do hope that you’re right about most of this.

    Your blog is consistently interesting and informative. Stay Sharp.

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