A lot of my friends don’t seem very thankful this season. Even though it’s the middle of November, and the newspapers are full of tips on turkey and advice on handling similarly ill-bred relatives, there is a shadow of gloom floating around. That chill in the air is not the weather. It’s our national mood.
Yes, the election is behind us. But the 51.43% of us who were “winners” don’t seem to be celebrating much. Congress is stuck where it was. The White House belongs to the same party. The country is exhausted by two wars. And the national deficit continues to soar. Sequestration and tax caps are topics of water cooler conversation. Here in the Nation’s Capital, the fiscal cliff is not just a metaphor.
An average of 53% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. There is genuine conversation – from calm, intelligent, educated folks – that our very republic is in some danger. Where is the glimmer of hope?
First, let’s draw a breath, close our eyes, and give thanks. We still have the strongest economy in the world. Not forever perhaps, but for real. We have an educated population, an incredibly mobile and connected society, and unmatched health care. Americans are not only not starving, we are not even thin. Yes, there is poverty. But there is plenty, and we have systems to share the plenty with those who are in need. There is drug addiction and alcoholism and the breakup of families. But again, there are educated people with good – if tough – answers.
Now for the hope.
We can in fact put all these resources to good work. We have innovators and inventors and educators. We have the most informed, most connected, most networked generation about to take the reins of an unbelievable system for sharing our challenges. And I believe we are about to start posting answers.
Fifty years from now, our children will look back at Intel and Microsoft and Apple as only the crudest of beginnings to the global village. Facebook and Google will seem mere toys. This is not yet the internet age.
Think of this as the age before the internet age.
Imagine a world where every college course – every class, in every subject – is free, online, and taught by the handful of best teachers in the world. All the recipes online today? Imagine a U.S. in which all the resumes – for all 200 million of us working by then – are posted and immediately sorted and matched to the millions of possible jobs. Think of automated financial planning, starting when you are about 16 years old, and updated daily with your earnings and spending, guaranteeing good habits (or at least good advice). Imagine a highway system where the last traffic death, thanks to onboard computers and radar, was 30 years in the past.
This future is real.
And for the poor, or the addicts, or those who fell off the network? Imagine the impact of entrepreneurs using the power of the free market to craft solutions to these challenges. Today’s social entrepreneurs, using the market applied to our toughest problems, will cook up some powerful answers.
Perfection? No, not as long as human beings are around. (The theology of original sin has a certain strength rooted in our humanity.)
But imagine the possibilities.
The future is a land where we send our children, that we ourselves can never visit.
Future, and children, and possibilities. That’s what I’m thankful for.