New Family Values
Traditional families are dissolving. Ever since the rise
of capitalism, people have been living in ever smaller family units and
giving ever more importance to their work compared to their families. In
the 20th century, the growing independence of women has also
meant less attention to family and in particular to children in the home.
It is neither possible nor desirable to go back to the old ways. The institutions
of marriage, child care, and school need to change so that women can retain
their independence yet all American children can get the nurturing they
need. We need family values, but family values attuned to the new age.
New Jobs for New Workers in the New Workplace
The information age is revolutionizing the workplace.
Global competition is transforming the corporate world. There is much to
celebrate in the new technologies and the new flexibility they give companies
and workers. But too often flexibility in the workplace translates into
more options for companies but fewer options for workers. Too many young
people are entering this new world as digital illiterates. And when the
current boom ends, we will almost certainly see the return of downsizing
with a vengeance. We need to empower workers in this new workplace, prepare
young people (particularly disadvantaged youth) for jobs in the information
age, retrain older workers in digital skills, and maintain employment levels
when the next recession arrives.
Making the Welfare State Work
Decades of conservative and corporate campaigns have turned
the welfare state a dirty word. Yet literally tens of millions of Americans,
young and old, depend on the social security, medicare, medicaid, the public
school systems, etc. to keep them out of poverty, help them through illness,
or prepare them for the future. Even though it has become fashionable to
trash the welfare state, the vast majority of Americans support government
assistance to the old, the young, the sick, the disadvantaged, and the
victims of poverty or discrimination. Certainly the bureaucratic inertia
and the occasional perverse incentives of the welfare state make easy targets
for ridicule. Yet no one would think of closing down the Pentagon because
military contractors sometimes defraud the system or generals try to pad
their budgets. Our leaders have lost sight of just how much good has been
done, just how many lives have been improved, by the programs of the welfare
state. Of course, we must exercise fiscal restraint, but we also need to
think creatively how government can deal with issues of poverty, health,
aging, and expanding opportunity in the 21st century.
Creating New Communities
The traditional family is dissolving, the relationship
between men and women is changing, the workplace is being transformed,
the welfare state is stumbling, selfish individualism is eclipsing public
spirit, and Americans are losing their sense of purpose as a people. One
key to addressing all these issues is the need to create a new sense of
community, a new sense of interconnectedness and interdependence. Just
as the old family cannot be revived, the old small town community cannot
be resurrected. New communities in tune with new families and the emerging
information society must be constructed if we are to have any chance of
reviving any sense of public purpose. Without such public spirit, our social
problems will fester and grow.
ISSUES WITH BOTH DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN CONTENT
Empowering the Poor
In the U.S. a core of poor people remain left behind even
in the greatest boom on record. Someday that boom will be over, and the
number of people frozen out of the economic system or left scraping at
its margins will skyrocket. At the international level, the vast majority
of people have not yet tasted the fruits of the industrial revolution,
much less the digital age. Hundreds of millions are hungry or without simple
medicines or sanitation. The persistence of mass poverty at home and abroad
should be intolerable. Indifference to the poor in the midst of unprecedented
prosperity is truly shameful. Trashing the domestic welfare state and the
international organizations that are the only systematic way to address
these problems is just as shameful.
Protecting the Planet
The information age has not brought an end to industrial
manufacture or to the unprecedented stress it has placed on the global
environment. The evidence of global warming only highlights the proven
damage done to the environment by industrial processes around the world.
If left unaddressed, the problem will only get worse, as rich westerners
consume more and more, and industrial technology spreads to less developed
nations around the world. Pollution knows no national borders. The U.S.
as the planet's leading polluter, needs to take a lead in protecting the
Reining in the Transnational Corporation
The global corporation is not new. The industrial revolution created companies with operations across the planet. But the old industrial giants were the rare exception to the general economic activity at the local level. And the old industrial corporations, while operating on a global scale, had a national identity. The were American, or British, or German, or Japanese companies with branches overseas. The new global titans are now truly transnational, in that they exist outside the nation-state, answering to no one but themselves, and with loyalties only to their bottom lines. These global "outlaws" control an ever larger share of economic activity, not only in the West, but around the world. The recent financial crisis in Asia is a warning to how dependent we all are on the whims of global financiers. The transnational corporation must be made to serve the people's interest as well as its own.
Reducing the American Role in the World
In the second half of the 20th century, the United States has acted not only as the world's policeman, but all too often as its judge and jury as well. In an ever more interdependent global system it is more than anachronistic that a nation with only 5% of the world's people has the hubris to think it should run the world. It is not only foolish but downright dangerous. In the Cold War era, the early successes of American interventionism led eventually to the debacle in Vietnam. The recent American-led wars in the Persian Gulf and the former Yugoslavia appear to have been military successes, but the arrogance they have engendered makes another disastrous military campaign only a matter of time. The American people have clearly indicated that they no longer support policies of global interventionism, even if concerted efforts by the political class can temporarily alter some poll numbers. The United States should stop acting like a 19th century European imperial power and find a way to live in the 21st century without going to war over and over again.
Democratization on a Global Scale
The vast majority of Americans believe in democracy. The spread of democracy around the world has been one of the most heartening developments of the 20th century. But in the global era, democracy should be conceived on a global scale. Most of the world's people are not Americans. The populations of China or India are greater than that of the entire western world. Global democratization should be thought of as much more than the spread of western electoral institutions to the non-western world. It should also mean that the vast majority of the world's people who are now ignored should have a greater voice in a world system not run by the West. That would be real democracy.
Curbing Weapons of Mass Destruction
Probably the single most important event of the 20th century was the American nuclear attack on Hiroshima. As Einstein said about nuclear weapons, "Everything has changed, except the way we think." During the Cold War the United States and Russia brought the human race to the brink of extinction. With the end of the Cold War we have sobered up a bit and begun to think about controlling the nuclear peril. But we have only begun to conceive of the kinds of changes that would be necessary to make nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction possible. We have actually done almost nothing. American leaders act horrified over genocide in Kosovo, but retain weapons whose use would make Kosovo seem like a picnic. Meanwhile the nuclear club grows. The recent crises in Kashmir and Taiwan should be warnings to those that think nuclear war is an impossibility. In the post-Cold War era, the American leadership has begun to focus on issues of nonproliferation. But as long as the U.S. maintains its genocidal arsenal, and as long as the U.S. uses its conventional forces to impose its will around the globe, other nations will not lay down their arms or foreswear nuclear weapons or other, cheaper and less technologically difficult weapons of mass destruction. The United States faces a stark choice. It can try to dominate a world with as many as a dozen or more potential antagonists with weapons of mass destruction. Or it can use its leadership to seek a peaceful global system with many fewer weapons of mass destruction. But it cannot have it both ways.
LEADERSHIP AND FOLLOWERSHIP
We all know that the American political process has degenerated
into an absurd circus. However, we should also be aware that political
choices will make the difference between peace, prosperity, and community
or war, social stagnation, and spiritual impoverishment. Historically,
our candidates and our political elite have failed us. But are Americans
themselves ready to demand real political leadership? Or are we content
to enjoy our private pleasures and let the country go to hell?
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