All one has to do is to reflect on all of the technological changes in the past ten years which occurred to have hope for mankind's future. These include:
- Renewable energy (huge deployments of wind and solar systems, at ever-declining costs), with "grid parity" achieved in some geographic areas already, and much of the world likely to see grid parity within the next decade. (And that doesn't even count the high and often unmeasured costs of carbon, released by carbon fuels.) There are also promising deployments of geothermal systems, tidal forces technology, carbon capture technology, energy efficient buildings and lighting and heating, and so much more. We now have the hope of substantially reducing our reliance on carbon-based fuels, which in turn can lead to saving much of our world from the ever-greater harmful effects of global warming.
- Human genome research, including the incredible ability to map out each person's genes at relatively low cost, and the dramatic new gene therapies just beginning to emerge. Not to mention other major developments in health care, from new MRI techniques promising the ability to better diagnosis illnesses, to new therapies to fight cancer, and even better understanding of factors affecting human longevity. There is renewed hope that, within a few decades, all cancers will be treatable (and/or preventable). Perhaps even an end to the common cold, and all manners of protection against deadly viruses and bacteria, will emerge.
- Materials science, fueling in some measure the foregoing, but also dramatically affecting everything from better battery technologies (think: "low-cost electric car") to computers (think: speed and storage capacities to rise 1,000-fold) to water filtration (think: "clean water for everyone").
- Greater communications at far lower cost throughout most of the world, opening up an exchange of information and ideas in ways many never thought possible. Also leading to profound changes in the delivery of education, and new access to education at all levels by hundreds of millions worldwide.
And each week I read of more new and promising scientific and technological developments, many of them from the halls of our great colleges and universities. Of course, I realize that not every discovery will make its way from the laboratories to practical implementation, but the number of innovations is truly outstanding.
Of course, we have major problems in this world. Food shortages in some areas (and higher food costs, generally, than we would like to see). Billions of our fellow citizens of this earth infected with intestinal parasites, and even more with no access to clean water.
And, even in countries with plenty, there is hunger and social injustice. There is war, far too often. The rule of law is not even close to be universally accepted. And the nations of this world have yet to agree to arbitrate all of their international disputes.
There has also been a shift, due in part to the very successes we herald (with applications of computer technology, robotics, etc.), of the source of profits for companies. Human labor has been replaced, to a degree, with the deployment of technology via monetary capital. Fundamentally, this is one source for high unemployment numbers in many developed countries. This change in our economic structure is not discussed frequently enough by the public media, nor even by economists. We must identify how to better distribute the wealth generated by these technological advances in such a fashion as to maintain human dignity and provide a better, not worse, standard of living for our children. New economic theories must arise to guide us in designing sustainable and less disruptive economic systems. With our greater understanding of human emotions, biases, and motivations, we can go far in this area.
We will always possess limited resources. We will always face tough choices. We will always possess disagreements over the correct path to pursue; yet, we need not be disagreeable. We can seek out truth, and through discussion we can overcome the potential for discord. We can keep government within its proper roles and limited, while using government more effectively where it is needed most. And we can better rely on our other social institutions - places of worships, charitable organizations, and our individual love of our fellow man - to effect comfort, care and shelter for those who truly lack the present ability to provide for themselves fully.
I often read of the "decline of America." Yet, no where else in the world is seen the combination of entrepreneurial spirit, risk-taking, scientific research, idea creation, and capital formation as is seen in this country? With proper policies to maintain and enhance our strengths, America can and will remain a great country. To those who constantly foretell America's decline I say, "Don't tell me what America can no longer do. Tell me what America can do better. And then, together, let's go and achieve it! Deliberately. Intelligently. Resolutely."
Yes, bringing forth positive changes in society often takes leadership. And, no doubt, some structural changes will be required to permit great leaders to emerge, and better enable them to lead. For example, fostering America's greatness will require new policies to end the undue influence of money on politics. Increased statesmanship, and enhanced leadership, would then follow.
It will also take the proper embrace of appropriate principles, which will then serve to guide our great institutions of government, commerce and industry. It will take the further realization that we live in an ever-more-complex and specialized society, in which we all possess the need to depend upon the expertise of others. It will take the realization that, as we turn to these experts, information asymmetry is far to great, which dictates the imposition of principles to safeguard those who rely upon such experts. In such a way, we can restore trust to our financial services system, foster capital investment, and engender a new era of economic growth.
In conclusion, I believe America's future is great. Mankind's future is promising. Let us find ways to discover the right path, to forge ahead, to create and build and explore new frontiers of science and technology and economics. Together let us construct the foundations for a better tomorrow, for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and for all of humanity.
I'm optimistic. You should be, too.