(Foolish) optimism

It doesn’t seem easy for some Americans in these times, regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum, to remain confident about the country’s future. At least, not compared to those in the last few generations based on what was always indicated to me growing up.

Here are a few very brief and incomplete notes that I came up with while writing to a friend in defense of my optimism regarding the future of the US, slightly adapted. I’m not actually sure any of it will prove to be significant, or that this optimism is justified (hence the title), but I thought it would be worth formalizing a little into this post.

Comparing the minimal welfare programs in the US to those in most other developed countries, and generally the lower focus on directly effecting economic and social equality:

Every other developed country as well as the US had or has survived for centuries without these. It’s unclear that they are, in and of themselves, necessary for the sustenance of a society. That being said, the limited scope of these programs in the US continues to allow for unnecessary harm with respect to my morals, so I see them as urgent issues nonetheless. I’m just not convinced they can independently induce a decline that isn’t followed by a subsequent recovery (or even a peaceful political revolution) that yields a better outcome in the long term.

Comparing raw economic benefits in the US:

There are direct advantages that the US still enjoys, such as a relatively generous supply of natural resources and a “moral capital” that continues to induce a desire to immigrate into the US. It ranks by far at the top of the list of countries that migrants want to move to, according to a 2017 Gallup poll, and I would guess this provides the potential advantage of “free” and controlled highly-skilled labor if it’s not squandered by publicized anti-immigrant sentiment and perpetuated inefficiencies in immigration bureacracy. Due to these potential faults, as well as others that I’m sure could be argued, I’m not confident how this particular advantage would play out but it seems noteworthy.

I believe advancements generally prevail, and I have a somewhat blind faith that this will happen here as well:

This is far more personal and anecdotal, but for instance, there’s a general philosophy in the tech startup world that the best product wins more often than not, despite worse management, more limited funding, and other disadvantages. Similar ideas have been expressed through the centuries in various other environments. I believe people are eventually likely to arrive at more productive solutions for problems that the country currently faces given that many very qualified people (Americans and otherwise) have long been thinking about them. I personally find it difficult to accept that better ideas forever fail to prevail, especially in a world with generally improving life outcomes both in developed and developing countries partially as a result of wider access to information and political literacy, the meeting of basic necessities which allows for more reflection, and other progressions. I remain concerned that this will occur quickly enough in the US to outpace growing dangers, including increasing distrust in government institutions.

This being said, I suspect that many or even most Americans in the last few decades who could choose to have an equivalent life (in family ties, economic standing, etc.) in another developed country would opt for one of these alternatives if a perfectly informed decision were possible. I make no claim that the US is superior for most Americans than similarly developed countries, particularly those as wealthy as the US. However, I still see a few areas of hope that I think the country can capitalize on, although this requires first building a more productive, informed, and consensus-based political climate. Without a government that values acting in the interest of most Americans, it’s difficult to see how the lives of most Americans can be improved in anything but the most ancillary ways (through largely unrelated developments in industrialization, science and technology, etc.).