Beyond Blue Part Three: The Power of Infostructure
Published on: February 5, 2012
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  • Anthony

    Infostructure (IT)….

    At bottom WRM, you are implying economic growth; however, said growth now must include actors exogenous to America. Yes, the United States enjoys many comparative advantages (climate, resources, geography, social organization, etc.) but friction is inevitable given our historical (now defined as red, blue, purple) polity views. Further, assembling infostructure that enhances IT advances will require “recasting” our views vis-a-vis educational delivery considering America’s dearth of aspiring scientists and engineers (“The critical advances of the next generation involve the development and construction of a radically new infostructure….”).

    WRM, you are correct a “race to bottom” economically cannot benefit majority of American citizens. But, a “race to the front” leaves me where Francis Fukuyama recently inquired: do institutions really matter? And can we prosper and raise our living standards without examining honestly that question in an American context?

  • Mark Michael

    Prof Mead tiptoes around it, but central to the success of the English-speaking world is widespread economic liberty. We’ve more successfully constrained government to limited roles in the economy than other cultures, at least until very recently: education, infrastructure, and since the New Deal, old age retirement income and then the Great Society Medicare, Medicaid and heavier involvement with welfare (charity).

    This is not to say Progressives haven’t tried to control much larger swathes of the Western economies! Witness the Obama administration and its stabs at sponsoring “green” energy projects, highspeed rail, spending $814B on a multi-year fiscal stimulus with strong backing from Keynesian macroeconomists.

    But these efforts are strongly resisted by more “lassez faire” economists. Their legacy goes back to Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Alfred Marshall, Ludwig von Muses, Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, & Robert Mundell (father of the euro & Nobel Prize winner, 1998, and “supply side” guru).

    Arnold Kling has written a column for the WSJ Europe, Feb. 3rd, explaining why he thinks the $814B fiscal stimulus was almost guaranteed to disappoint (my words, not his) that is based on an analysis using what he calls PSST (“Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade”), admittedly, a clunky name, but in the tradition of Smith, Ricardo, von Muses, Hayek, et al. See:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204740904577197044156250870.html

    A QUOTE OR TWO (OR THREE!):

    #1 “Modern Keynesians claim the problem is that businesses and consumers are not doing their part. Borrowing and spending is a tough job, the Keynesians say, but somebody has to do it, and that somebody should be the government.

    “Unfortunately, this view may not be correct. Instead, I believe that the process of creating employment is explained not by the theories of Keynes, but rather by the theories of Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Smith famously described the advantages of specialization and division of labor. Ricardo pointed out the gains from trade that come from consuming goods that others produce more efficiently. From the perspective of Smith and Ricardo, real jobs emerge in the context of patterns of sustainable specialization and trade.

    “Unfortunately, the patterns of specialization and trade that had emerged five years ago were not sustainable. Many jobs in home construction, durable-goods manufacturing and distribution, and mortgage finance were dependent on housing markets with ever-rising prices. In the U.S. and the U.K. in particular, the finance industry expanded well beyond its true economic value. Once the property bubbles burst, these jobs were exposed as not viable. Meanwhile, ongoing creative destruction brought about by the Internet and globalization have continued to allow substitution of capital and emerging-market labor for industrialized countries’ labor in many sectors. Together, these phenomena have caused widespread dislocation.

    “More government spending will not bring back the days when supposedly triple-A-rated mortgage securities could be fashioned out of dodgy loans to unqualified borrowers. Doing so would not halt the ongoing improvements in productivity in manufacturing and retail trade. It would not facilitate the adjustments that are needed in the mix of skills in the labor force. The necessary adjustments can only be made by the decentralized efforts of entrepreneurs.”

    #2 “n contrast, in our Smith-Ricardo story, the knowledge of how and what to produce has to be discovered. Entrepreneurs have to figure out ways to utilize resources that satisfy wants in an efficient way. The market mechanism first must undertake trial and error to create production processes that exploit comparative advantage. Until these new patterns of sustainable specialization and trade are discovered, there are no job slots.

    “Experimenting with new patterns of specialization and trade is relatively easy. Discovering patterns of sustainable specialization and trade is much harder. Our economic well-being depends on the ability of entrepreneurs to make these discoveries”

    #3 “All this dynamism and ferment is absent in the Keynesian story of aggregate demand. But it is central to the PSST story. In the PSST story, major recessions take place when too many patterns of specialization and trade become unsustainable at once. The entrepreneurial adjustment mechanism is overwhelmed, and it takes several years for the economy to adapt.

    If the Keynesian demand story is not valid today, then perhaps it was not valid during the Great Depression either. The 1920s and 1930s were, like the present, a period in which major technological changes were working their way through the economy. Economic historian Alexander Field has argued that the decade of the 1930s saw more technological progress than any other decade in American history.”

  • Jim.

    Has anyone ever done any work on the balancing act between gaining efficiency in one industry (thus shedding jobs there) and the degree to which those efficiencies help every other industry that depends on those industries?

    Say the efficiency of the Financial industry goes up. That industry sheds jobs. Every other industry sees its overhead drop because financial services suck up a smaller portion of their budget. How many more people can they hire because of this? How much more competitive are they?

    That’s about the only way efficiency can create jobs. The other way to create jobs is a frontier — a “place”, real or virtual, where people can create profitable enterprises (and thus jobs) where none existed before.

    Correct me if I’ve missed anything, there have been far more hours logged at work than in sleep, the last week or so.

  • KFJ

    How secure is our position in the English-speaking world as unchecked millions of Spanish-speaking immigrants (mostly Mexican) make America a bilingual country?

  • WigWag

    America’s secret weapon is not only the cultural characteristics that make us more nimble in adapting to change, it’s also the governments willingness to accept great risks in investing in the new technologies that hasten change. New York State’s willingness to pay to build the Erie Canal is an early example.

    Critics on the left are apt to complain that we spend too much on defense; they love to complain that the United States spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. These critics neglect to mention two things; the R&D expenditures of the Pentagon have enormously benefited the civilian economy (think of the Internet or the GPS system in your car). They also fail to mention that the United States Government also spends more on health research through the National Institutes of Health than the rest of the world combined. We spend more on agricultural research through the Department of Agraculture than the governments of the rest of the world combined. The same is true for the energy research projects supported through the Department of Energy. Until the Obama Administration we also spent more on space and aviation research through NASA than the rest of the world.

    Continued government investment in basic and applied scientific and engineering research is critical to building a robust “infostructure.” After all, was is “infostructure” other than the point of confluence between the digital world and the scientific world?

    Unfortunately, recent Republican presidents including both Bushes were hostile to government funded basic research and support for these programs floundered. Support for these programs were very high during the Clinton and Obama Administrations (though Obama has really blundered when it comes to NASA). There are reasons to believe that Romney, if elected, will be a good deal more sympathetic to government funded research than his luddite Republican predecessors.

    In any case, one aspect of the “blue” model that will need to more vibrant than ever if Professor Mead’s vision of a new economy built in “infostructure” is to be achieved is generous funding of basic and applied research by government.

    Professor Mead also mentions the fact that cultural characteristics give Americans a tremendous comparative advantage; he mentions the fact that much of the rest of the world is speaking English but he neglects to mention other aspects of culture including movies, music and other forms of entertainment. As criticized as it is by right-wingers, Hollywood has played a tremendous role in advancing American interests in the world. In part, the America presented to the world by Hollywood is the reason that so many of the best and the brightest from other places want to come here.

    Promoting and exporting American culture is important to facilitating the type of America Professor Mead foresees. But it shouldn’t be left up to Hollywood. The National Council on the Arts and the National Council on the Humanities both help insure that American cultural life is vigorous enough to be worth exporting. Of course this is another area where Republicans tend to be backwards looking and unprepared for the new world that awaits us like it or not.

  • Charming Billy

    ” Every court decision ever given, every brief ever filed and every journal article ever written will some day be available in a single database; intelligent software could sift the facts of any given case and the arguments of both sides against this material to make some predictions about how a given case might come out.”

    Did you stop to think that the same software could put historians out of business?

  • BillH

    Short-winded analysis: The market did it before. Let’s all be quiet and let the market do it again. Then we (or perhaps our descendants) can theorize about how the market did it – again.

  • JackCade

    I cannot help but note, as a practicing attorney, that the proliferation of sources of law, which you note, as well as of other forms of documentation, has had the opposite effect of what you predict — the legal system moves more slowly and is more expensive and, a fact which you don’t address but that is very important, is less fair.

    Maybe your point is the long view, that after these wrinkles are worked out the legal system will reap the latent powers of the infostructure.

    But that’s not all or even most of it, as far as I see it. Your reductionistic approach ignores the ways in which law differs from other commodities. Even as it moves more quickly — especially as it moves more quickly — it has to generate good results. Indeed, you could make the system more cheap and quick if you goosed its ability to generate good results.

    You could make the cheapest and fastest legal system in the world in one second, if you wanted, and you wouldn’t need to plug in one computer — just flip a coin to resolve disputes. Think about why that wouldn’t be satisfactory and you’ll start to see my point.

    The genius of the anglo-american legal system is not one of technology but rather a penchant for devising elegant but yet workable solutions; the genius of the common law was its ability to generate commonsense, predictable, and simple resolutions that, at the same time, respected the values of fair play. Any use of infostructure in the legal system for good, as opposed to ill, will be animated by that spirit. Its shape will be formed more by the contours of the law than the technology used to execute it.

    What would really streamline the legal system is a new legal regime to replace the current statute-driven regulatory regime — something that would retain the virtues of the common law but would be adapted to the complexities of modern life. That, and not the fact that your document review is being handled in India, will have the deepest and most lasting impact on the legal system going forward.

  • Kenny

    Yes, enhance our infostructure by all means, but at the same time we have to ask must the U.S. be the policeman for the world, a policeman who does not get compensated by the ingrates he protects?

  • Regarding the streamlining of the legal system: already we can see glimmerings of what that can look like in New Zealand, where everything you need to do to start a company can be done online at http://www.business.govt.nz/.

    For a lot of routine matters in the United States, there is no reason why it can’t be done this way–except that, right now, many legal activities (such as starting a business) involve a complex of municipal-level, county-level and state-level laws, and a race towards streamlining small business formation would involve a meeting at the middle–between IT systems handing more complexity and states normalizing practices so the differences in starting a business are similar across the country–reducing the complexity inherent in multiple regions with their own legal requirements.

    This may, ironically enough, trigger a drive towards greater and greater Federalization of the legal scheme behind many routine legal matters–making laws more “mass produced”–but not as an extension of Federal control as much as reducing the cost by reducing the number of different laws (for example, moving towards a unified code of business practices across states) and reducing the number of law makers. Think of what happened to agribusiness in the last century: the fall of isolated farms in favor of large-scale industrial farming–though the legal system may be more resistant to consolidation of legal regimes only because political environments are far more resistant to economic change.

    This may not be a good century to be a lawyer.

  • Kris

    “The alternative to a race to the bottom … is a race to the front”

    In the words of Professor Zimmerman, “You’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.”

    “Since 1688, the English speaking world has seen only two successful violent revolutions … The other successful violent revolution was the secession of Ireland”

    I’d hardly call Ireland part of the English speaking world; Éire, with its anthem “Amhrán na bhFiann” and its national motto “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!” (Dixit Wikipedia.)

    [/hum]

  • Soul

    Just to quickly comment on the article, when I was working in our family company we found the idea of setting up manufacturing attractive but quickly realized risky. It is expensive to set up a manufacturing firm in the US, and with technology changing quickly, figured out that it was best to let foreigner firms take the risk. That allowed us to be more nimble in a changing market. We could make good money arranging toll work and marketing.

  • maulerman

    William Woody @ 10

    The legal system has made numerous efforts over time to go to consolidated statutes. The most notable is the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) which has been adopted at least in part by all 50 states. There are also several other model codes. Finally, as part of passing the bar exam, all attorneys must pass the multistate section, a day long multiple choice test addressing common legal questions.

    As to automation of the legal system, WRM’s caveat on comparison to predictions on the development of the chemical industry made in 1895 is particularly apt. Dispute resolution has already undergone a major change in my 30 years as an attorney with a tremendous emphasis on alternative dispute resolution through mediation, arbitration or other forms as provided for by contract or statute. These proceedings do not involve juries and are typically resolved quickly. ADR will continue to evolve and many lawyers will find their future careers dependent on evaluating disputes between competing parties that never see the inside of a courtroom.

    Finally, I would predict that a key evolution in our legal system will be drastically limiting or completely eliminating trial by jury. A significant portion of the delay and complications of a legal dispute in our system are due to restrictions on the type of evidence which a jury is allowed to consider in its deliberations. A trial is much shorter, cleaner and quickly resolved where a judge presides over both the legal and factual issues. Take out a jury, as is done in the ADR contractual system, and the legal system will operate in a more timely and efficient manner.

  • As the IT revolution continues to unfold no doubt many of these developments will occur, and our economy will become more efficient as a result. Labor productivity will continue to climb as will real per capita GDP. The U.S. will continue to pace the world in invention, innovation, and scientific discovery.

    I question however whether any of these things by themselves will make much difference in so far as the hollowing out of our middle-class democracy is concerned. They will only make it worse.

    Why? Because just like free trade and mass immigration in a lopsided world, technological improvements by themselves serve only to increase the supply of labor in the most advanced economies in relation to capital.

    Like trade and immigration, they make it possible for everyone to be better off than before. But only in principle. In practice it is necessary to invoke what in trade theory is called the principle of compensation.

    What is the principle of compensation? In a nutshell it is the idea that you must tax the gainers in order to compensate the losers. Without redistributing the fruits of economic and technical progress the gulf between capital and labor is bound to grow wider.

    This is not a matter of personal opinion. It is a conclusion of elementary textbook economics (plus some advanced trade theory I admit). It’s truth is born out by the last forty years of American experience.

    The myth of laissez faire does not serve America well. This is because the natural distribution of income in a market economy depends almost entirely on the distribution of capital at the beginning of the game. This includes both the distribution of human capital — which means, for the most part, the brains you were born with — and the material wealth you have at your disposal.

    In other words your place in a market economy is largely a matter of chance and good fortune — not virtue or desert. The least well-endowed among us, those who are honest and play by the rules, must work harder and longer to enjoy a piece of the pie that is many-times smaller. Does anyone doubt this? Just look at the statistics.

    Complicating the issue here in the U.S. is the unique challenge of human biodiversity. Ethnic groups vary vastly in their native endowments — a truth plain for everyone to see, but which our political class finds it very difficult to confront.

    Unlike in homogeneous societies such as Sweden or Japan, it’s not easy for the top groups in a multi-ethnic democracy to sympathize with those at the bottom. They not only look different but they are different in many different ways. Genetic distance and altruism do not comport well together.

    Which is why the American creed, not blood, is the only thing that can possibly hold this nation together and make us one people. The alternative is a continued slow drift towards a racially-stratified two-class society.

    It would be a betrayal of everything America stands for. I weep for my country if we let it drag on.

  • Andrew Allison

    It appear to me that one could precis Prof. Mead’s essay as follows: we must increase the productivity of American workers. And therein lies the rub. We have spend decades of economic well-being reducing productivity by creating unproductive jobs: the armies of “administrators” in government, education, defense, the legal profession, etc. Those people (who will fight tooth and nail to retain the posts) need to be found productive work as we extricate ourselves from this mess. The Greek tragedy should be a lesson to all of us.

  • At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is a fine description of the US comparative advantage, and why our economic agility is likely to increase US growth faster than almost any other country, but it still doesn’t address the problem of how untalented, uncreative, or unintelligent workers are going to be employed in an economy where there’s little demand for either blue-collar labor or all but the most specialized types of white-collar labor.

    “Income inequality” doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But an all-or-nothing economy where half the population is fabulously wealthy and the other half is structurally unemployed really worries me.

  • One observation on information friction, or lack thereof.

    We have now had about 15 years of experience where the internet has dramatically reduced the natural friction of information transmission. That reduction in friction has brought about unprecedented productivity and opened up industries that were unimaginable 25 years ago.

    During the same period, we’ve also had two historic market bubbles and crashes, a political climate whose superficiality is only exceeded by its divisiveness, and an acceleration in the news cycle to the point where it’s impossible to disseminate a new idea faster than the criticism of it.

    Engineers are very fond of components that possess very little friction. However, they also understand that systems without friction or resistance designed into them are underdamped: they can oscillate out of control when driven in the wrong mode.

    Since social engineering is by-and-large impossible, we will have to wait until we blunder into new institutions that provide the necessary points of friction to promote a stable society. Until we do that, it’s worthwhile remembering than frictionless information dissemination is a two-edged sword.

  • Ken Marks

    This has been a really good series of articles. But what you are talking about is stuff. You have forgotten that for the “stuff” to work, the spirit of America, as regards its belief in and submission to God, must be alive and well. But it is dead, or dying and soon to be dead. Formed as a Christian country with godly values, we have become a violent and detestable pagan society. We are a country full of rage and darkness, and our society is tearing itself apart. All the stuff in the world will not save us if this downward spiritual spiral continues.

  • Fred Bartlett

    Walter,

    Legal prose is notoriously difficult to read; legal prose composed by computers will be orders of magnitude more difficult for humans to read. We bog down in, say, four or five nested subordinate clauses; computers can handle millions.

    But you are correct that computers will be good at this. While they perform poorly when faced with unconstrained natural language, legalese can almost be considered an early stab at a programming language — perhaps some enterprising lawyer-computer scientist could render American legalese into Backus-Naur form.

    It is not difficult to foresee a legal future in which the laws cannot be understood by any merely human intelligence.

    Not that our current crop of human lawyers haven’t tried!

  • Dr. Mead: Again an interesting essay. A Couple of points:
    1. Your legal friction reduction plan was foreseen decades ago by Robert Heinlen in a short story in which the attorneys presented their argument, a database was queried and the applicable precedent immediately found – case over.
    2. Some intelligent successor to Gov Brown (which in itself entails quite a leap of faith in CA’s public school-created voters), could change state paperwork immediately. I work in CA for TX-based startup. When I was hired one full inch of paperwork was required of my company by CA. When a Texan is hired, there are a few (three) computer screens and the task is complete. This of course is demanded by Public Sector unions in CA as a jobs measure; obviously the information itself can be entered and transmitted much more efficiently.
    3. The Blue model DEPENDS on economic and governmental friction – it creates jobs for those not bright enough to compete in the private sector, who in turn provide voters for blue-model politicians who increase the friction to buy more votes…
    4. The race-to-the-bottom is an interesting thought, and doubtless that is where the Left leads, as it historically always has. But FOUNDATIONALLY, to be concerned, even to THINK about the idea of “race to the bottom” requires a view of the future in which that bottom will or will not be reached. As in a comment I made in the previous essay (Blue Model -2), the left does not believe in the future and is not populating it. Is it reasonable to assume that we all share even the idea of a future? This is not an un-serious question. As in my earlier, only 2 Blue states, neither densely populated (NM, NV) have a fertility at or over 2.1. Democrats are not populating the future that will be required in order to pay their fiscal demands of today. It is doubtful that any on the Left consider the wealth of the future when crafting their policies of today. They just don’t care about a future they are not populating. It seems foolish to think otherwise.

  • a nissen

    Amen to TheRadicalModerate!

    The uncharacteristic propaganda WRM today offers begins with this well known premise:

    “The legal system arose in order to solve disputes; it consumes a great deal of time and money and is itself one of the great sources of friction in our society but it is much better than anarchy would be. ”

    Then jumps to utilitarian possibilities of future paralegal services. Studious avoidance of the elephant in the room is little other than propaganda, not the critical thinking and parsing that I have come to expect at Via Meadia.

    U.S. executive branches over the last several decades have been shockingly successful at removing the friction caused by “rule of law” and most often, but not always, on behalf of the vested interests.

    All good things must end? A very good question indeed.

  • Jim.

    @Mark Michael–

    That piece by Arnold Kling is brilliant, absolutely brilliant! That’s exactly how economic crashes happen — although I would claim that you don’t have to have all that many failures if the part of the system that fails is big enough.

    That’s why we must maintain a pluralistic system in which no component is allowed to become “too big to fail”. Bringing back the Anti-trust Act, devolving Federal responsibilities back onto the states (originalism) and winding down the Federal debt as rapidly as possible are all critical to avoiding (predictable) catastrophe in the future.

  • Why Can’t We Steal Canada’s Immigration Policies?

    I think the real 800-lb gorilla here is (illegal) immigration.

    Today in America, we have inverse selection in immigration: We make it hard for the world’s best and brightest to enter, while we make it nearly impossible to enforce the law on the world’s … well, least-educated and least-skilled.

    The trend is clear: We’re moving from a country of high-achieving, highly educated individuals (until recent decades we were the among the world’s highest scoring on most measures of educational attainment) to a place of dramatically lower educational attainment, stratification into very discrete cultural/racial groups (whites + Asians vs. African-Americans vs. Hispanics), and a permanent underclass taking shape alongside that stratification.

    Unfortunately, the investment of resources is staggering for America to try to “bring Latin America into the 21st century.” What we need to do is finally start understanding that our society is only as good as the people in it, and that if our immigration policy tips the scales in favor of the illegal Oaxacan restaurant water-pourer and against the Indian biologist, the average American’s future will be less bright.

    The advantages we have possessed for hundreds of years are at great risk as US politicians — in the name of appealing on racial lines to a particular ethnic bloc of voters, without regard for the country’s good — push the nation (or at least discrete populations within it) away from the Western world and closer to the less-successful models of Latin America.

    What are those advantages? We can start with a high level of educational attainment; innovation; unparalleled success in the invention of and use of new technologies; high productivity; a society willing and able to change with technological advances.

    Behind this stands, as Dr. Mead pointed out, the English language and the cultural mores and values of the Anglophone world; the rule of law (which, of course, includes repercussions for breaches of law); and a uniquely American sense that we have come to a New World, a tabula rasa free of the constraints of the Old World and capable of becoming whatever we want it to be.

    These things have traditionally allowed America to attract and absord the world’s best and brightest, and that self-reliant populace has given the country an ability to invest in infrastructure, as opposed to welfare programs (if the government frittered away its money on providing housing and food subsidies to a dependent populace, we wouldn’t be able to afford an Interstate Highway System, NIH, DARPA or university science grants).

    These keys to America’s success and the ability of the majority of Americans traditionally to achieve the American Dream are in danger as nearsighted political calculations cause us to push aside the Shanghai chemist in order to give us cheap landscaping (and prevent American chemists from facing honest competition!), meaning that we will increasingly have a populace that, at least for the first generation or two, is comprised of people unlikely to help realize or renew the strengths America has long had.

    And unfortunately, since Hispanics push (or at least are assumed by the mass media to be pushing) for a continuation, or even worsening, of that terrible immigration status quo, while virtually no voting blocs are invested in an intelligent immigration policy (Indian bankers don’t seem to be terribly concerned about letting more Indian professionals into the US), I have sadly little faith that the situation will improve.

  • Innogration

    Chicago Trib asked the same question today; their answer (not a surprise, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong): innovation is the key to our continued prosperity.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-jobs-20120206,0,5042902.story

    Unfortunately, your innovation is only as good as your population’s education … and if we want to ensure success in this, we’ll have to rapidly move from a low-skilled immigration system to a high-skilled system (e.g., via E-Verify to weed out illegal immigration and shifting the focus of legal immigration from family reunification to skilled workers, grads and entrepreneurs).

  • John Bulter

    The legal field has adopted far more efficiently that you note. Commonplace pleadings and Bankruptcy filings are electronic rather than in person, boilerplate is now avail. on line for pleadings, and templates are on word processors, decisions are posted on line immediately instead of months later in book form, so research is much faster. Recently, outsources to India for some doc. preparation saves $$

  • Sen. James Webb of Virginia says it a lot better than I can — though even he overlooks what these MIT economists admit is the factor of information technology. Trade theorist Paul Krugman on the other hand now admits trade is a big part of the problem, even as Harvard labor economist George J. Borjas (an immigrant himself by the way) acknowledges the importance of that unmentionable subject.

  • werbaz neutron

    The only permanent monopoly is government.

    The only permanent societal costs of monopoly come from government behavior.

    Other monopolies come and go for a variety of reasons.

    The blue model seeks to impose yet more government monopoly and government monopoly costs upon us.

    To the extent the democrats do that, we have lost our advantage.

    Of course, that is what they seem to want.

    {I wish them unhappiness in the future].

  • P.S. If we can’t do serious income redistribution then protective tariffs and a temporary time-out in immigration are the only genuine alternatives. To which we might add a six-hour day for working parents with children. That’s America’s choice. Those who can’t face it are just whistling Dixie.

  • harumpf

    This is more soft socialism.

    we do not need a “new model”; we need to chuck the New deal and all of its accretions, chuck globalism and go back to the nation we once where. It is a simple as that, and no, the pseudo-intellectual cant of the Left that would rail against this is not worth considering.

    Get rid o0f the “blue model”, which is of course nothing but a corrupt political machine hiding traitorous international socialist.

    Get rid of them. Tax the devil out of offshorers, Slam on the tariffs. Lower taxes and regulation, then there will be work a plenty for everyone, including “blue collar workers”.

    Also, shun folks that come up with idiotic liberalspeak such as this.

    “At bottom WRM, you are implying economic growth; however, said growth now must include actors exogenous to America”.

    What pompous nonsense.

    If we threw out the internationalists we would see just how pathetic those “exogenous actors” really are. They have been allowed to flourish at the middle classes expense.

    The problem with Mr. Meade is that he 1) as drunk to much liberal koolaid, he just cannot get past it, and 2) he is evidently too young to remember how this nation used to be. This Pseudo-intellectual nonsense about a “new model” shows this. The very thing that we do not need is a “new model’. This is just the problem, you imagine that government or “thinkers” design models for the rest of us.

    We need to merely roll back the hideousness of the last 70 years of collectivism and cultural Marxism. Chuck the traitors straight out of the country. Hang ’em high.

    The nation will be just fine. It does not need your help in “finding a model”.

  • harumpf


    No doubt many new opportunities will emerge during the 21st century; nanotechnology and biology look to provide revolutions at least as profound as anything to be found in the IT revolution now transforming the world. But until these new developments come more fully on line, the biggest opportunity and the greatest challenge that faces all the leading economies will be to harness the full power of IT to social needs.

    This too is claptrap. IT needs to be “harnessed” for economic needs and those needs are those of commercial firms and their customers. that would be individuals. The absolutely last things we should be concerned with are”social needs”, and we most certainly do not need government involvement in this This is purely a communist construct.

    One has to merely contrast the loony boondoggle of the EU’s “grid computing initiative” with Amazon’s cloud platform to see this.

    It is also nothing but an assumption that nanotechnology or “biology” (whatever that means), holding some sort of inevitable “promise”. The fraud of “climate science” shows us a cautionary tale. In the late 80’s we heard that Artificial intelligence was the next wave. The Japanese government went so far as to sponsor “Prologe Machines”. Computer Scientist were out in the valley trying to scare people with a sort of “AI Gap” rhetoric in order to drum up some cash. It was hokum. We heard in the late 90’s that the path to the future was “super conductivity”. This too did not pan out. We have for decades been “fighting a war on cancer”; we have been pursuing Fusion fruitlessly for 50 years. Much of this was merely welfare for “government scientists”, most of whom were Democrats.

    This all speaks of a notion of “progress” that is close to idolatry.

    What we need to do is focus on individuals getting back to pursuing their own self interests under liberty. The rest will follow. If indeed these fields have the potential that you imagine that they have, the markets will bring them forth. Get back to sane, American constitutionalism and individual rights. the rest will take care of itself.

    IT? You must reflect on how it came to be in the first place: A clearly defined and, BTW, constitutional set of requirements of government. that would be defense. That would be the Cold War, for those of you under the age of 50. It was not a “policy” of the government for “find growth”, it was the result of computational needs for ballistics, nuclear military research, military telecommunications and aerospace.

    Few at the time imagined that there would be such a thing as laptop computers.

    IT merely exists to support other parts of the economic pyramid: Agriculture, manufacturing and services. It is not an end in and of itself. There is no such thing as an “information economy”. It is a nonsensical formulation. One of the very bizarre notions foisted on us by the elites is that one can have a purely “high tech” culture or economy, a “service economy” or a “creative economy”.

    This is, of course, baloney. It is baloney shoved at us by sectors generally directly or indirectly profiting from government subsidy, or those profiting from the very strange and unscrupulous VC culture that has developed around the internet these last 20 years or so. It is the posturing of the mostly unproductive, would be aristos of the (mostly) Democrat Nomenklatura.

    It is, obviously, a lie, as any computer programmer who has lost his job to sweatshops overseas will tell you.

    We really need to get over this liberal notion of “revolutions”and “new paradigms”, and get back to the business of living our lives and living up to our great heritage.

    Science and technology will take care of themselves then. They will be “harnessed” to things that actually matter. They will not be wasted on bizarre and trivial “businesses” like twitter.

    If we stood the current VC infrastructure on its head, if we focused it toward manufacturing, agriculture, hing tech manufacturing (energy, aerospace, material science, etc.) all would be wonderful, but to do this we would have to change back the whole value system of our culture. What is holding us back in IT is current bizarre and almost medieval approach to technology innovation and firm creation. Once we had a booming tech space with many competitive companies, and most of them had their engineering and manufacturing in the USA. What do we have now? Google? Apple? Search engines and cell phones? This is a technology economy? Once we walked on the moon. Now we have but a few large players, all corrupted by politics and ideology, and their “technology” is rather shallow.

    We have lost our sense of what technology is for, and we have lowered our sights on what innovation looks like.

  • Yahzooman

    “Our religious sensibility is future-oriented and believes that God is working through the chaos and uncertainties of life.”

    That passage reminded me of a quote I read recently about the difference between Islam and Christianity.

    In Islam, god asks us to die as martyrs for him.

    In Christianity, God died as a martyr for us.

    Simplistically, that is why East is East and West is West; and never the twain shall meet.

    Yes, our religious freedom and Judeo-Christian values propel us forward, not backward (see Egypt, Syria, Iran, et al).

    Thanks for another thought-provoking article.

  • Joel Ryan

    The concept of technology reducing friction is as is stated hard to predict. The fact that friction will be produced by those trying to maintain their lifestyle is not. Much like the public sector unIons are flexing, the lawyers will flex. This transformation will be ugly, but unions and lawyers will not stop it.

  • M. Report

    Replace banks with barter done in bullet time
    and watch goods and services move from place
    to place across a frictionless blue marble.

  • Mike

    Mr. Mead talks about friction, but mostly talks around it. Other posters have addressed this point but let me add my bit. As the blue social model continues its irreversible collapse, those in control of it are trying to prop it up by legal and regulatory fiat. When the final crash comes, this jungle of law and regulation will remain. Will we be smart and bold enough to clear it away? Only then will the friction in our nation’s life be significantly reduced.

  • An illiterate society will be a society of serfs.

    Our state – run school systems were designed with that end in mind.

    It was a long march through the institutions to win the prize.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    To play the devil’s advocate, wasn’t the problem with the Housing Bubble the LACK of institutional friction?

    As for California, it can’t go back to the early 1900 era before the Southern Pacific Railroad monopoly was “frictionized” by the Progressives. But it could make some radical changes that could increase the likelihood of developing new water supplies without increasing taxes; it could lower unit energy costs without having to resort to Green Power; and it could find a way to re-industrialize so that all the new high paid workers are not just Infostructure workers. But right now the only way to get there is for the current system to collapse – which it is bound to do when the pension wave hits state and local governments.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    As I understand it, the Blue Model is a collusive arraignment between the three monopolistic groups, Big Labor, Big Business, and Big Government. Of these three the Government Monopoly is still by far the strongest, as we have seen the private sector Labor Gangs market share cut by 75%, we have also seen the AT&T, Airlines, and other Big Business monopolies either deregulated, fail, or get defeated by more competitive businesses. So it is with some confusion when I see you say something like “the government needs to do ____” or “the government should do ____” when clearly the Government Monopoly needs to be severely limited to “Doing” only those things which only it can do, and everything else should be left to the free enterprise private sector. The explosion of creativity and growth that has occurred in air travel, and communications, after the Blue Model’s demise with the Airlines, and AT&T, indicates that similar but even greater rewards await us when the Big Government Monopoly finally gets as severely limited as the founding fathers intended.

  • Scott555

    Been waiting for the third installment of this series. Could not be more disappointed.

    “Infostructure” ? What a non-word; perfect to represent a non-idea.

    Based on the experience of a multi-decade career in IT, I can tell you with authority that IT is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    “Technology does not fix broken process or culture.”

  • theBuckWheat

    It is one thing to observe that “America needs to rebuild its infostructure”, it is another thing entirely to allow government to be in charge of it. We are in the mess we are in precisely because we fell to the temptation of allowing government to direct too much of the private sector in a vain effort to choose winners and losers.

    At this very moment, this Great Recession is slogging along exactly because we allowed government to borrow money in a vain attempt to support prices of housing, and it is doing so by fixating the time value of money at near zero. In the process, it is destroying the savings of millions of retired citizens and laying the groundwork for inflating their savings away from them.

    The median household income in 2010 was $52,026, meaning that for every $1 million in government money that is borrowed and wasted on failed projects, we destroy the entire annual income of about 20 households.

    We must allow the free market to function. Only the free market can choose what directions the economy should go in order to seek an optimum use of the economic assets and resources that can be developed.

    F.A. Hayek’s Nobel Lecture was titled The Pretense of Knowledge. In it he showed that no committee of experts knows more than all the distributed knowledge of all the participants in the economy. Thus, we must slash the role of government in controlling what economic decisions are made. When we do this, we will stop sucking money out of private hands and preventing them from making those decisions.

  • Anthony

    @29, to the contrary not “liberalspeak” (whatever that means) but assignation revealing consequence of three global changes since 1970s influencing capitalism: technological revolution of computers, the internet, and mobile telephony ushered in by digital electronic age. Concomitant with Asia rising in Global economy the above are exogenous actors now pervasive that economic growth domestically going forward must calculate impact of capital shifts derived thereof.

    The data speaks for itself and despite our divisive politics, disagreement of ideas in America hardly implies traitorous (constituting treason) behavior – end of thread.

  • Mark

    What about the moral and spiritual decay in the country? The sense of entitlement, radical individualism, selfishness, libertine behavior, decline of marriage and family. The moral relativism. The huge red/blue values gap. Those are the big problems. The technology will take care of itself if we can get government out of the way.

  • delmar jackson

    No need to predict the future of America, it is here- look to the once golden state of california , now called by many Mexifornia.

    our secret weapon was a shared culture,history,language,ethnicity,morals and values.That is all gone.

    “We absorb immigrants better than most. We like new things and like to try them out”

    Baloney!

    As many as 70% of Italian immigrants went back home in the last great wave of immigration in the 1920s. Those that stayed were met with a constant barrage of demands they assimilate. Some think that it was italian anarchists setting off bombs on wall street was the final straw that made business leaders side with tbose that wanted to reduce the tidal wave of immigration. The 1965 immigration act shoved down our throats opened the floodgates once again.

    We mow have massive unassimilating immigration and no melting pot, and are told we need to use the salad bowl approach and let immigrants stay foriegn and make the citizens conform to the immigrants .
    Once the tidal wave of immigrants get the vote, unassimilated they will dismantle the social cohesion of our communitiwes and we will descend into ehnic tribal politics making our once great homogenous nation a 3rd world country ripe for the picking.

    Mexifornia here we come!!

  • Jim

    @#3 Jim. Reduction in friction enables redeployment of operating expenses to some combination of investment, consumption, or taxation, directly or indirectly. Investment and taxation probably go up, if one assumes that the corporate profits and distributed earnings are taxed at a higher rate than the lost employee’s taxes and the corporation or the investor have more propensity to save than the displaced worker. Aggregate consumption probably goes down in the first instance, if one assumes the displaced worker is more likely to consume than to save or pay taxes. On the margin, the first-order effect on the overall economy is probably slightly positive. The second-order effects are what gets interesting. Efficiency results generally in lower prices (assuming some of the benefit is passed on to consumers in competitive markets), which means consumers experience a better set of outcomes. Growth creates demand for labor, so the displaced worker is redeployed to a more efficient use (although perhaps not at a higher wage for that individual). The result is a virtuous cycle of increased investment, economic growth, and improved standards of living. To see why, just look at who opposes reduction in friction — labor unions (and government-run institutions like schools, which is where most unionized workers actually are employed) and industries that are threatened by competition.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “Tax the devil out of offshorers, Slam on the tariffs.”

    And you’re the one complaining about collectivism, the prioritizing of “social needs,” …

  • Mark Peirano

    Each stage where we are able to produce a product or perform a service more efficiently (and more importantly at a lower cost) leaves and empty whole sometimes.

    i.e. Persons that build houses using modern techniques and builds them from materials that will last 60-100 years could build enough houses to last everyone that needs a house for 60-100 years….. long before he can earn what he needs to live for 60 years.

    Surplus is the benefit of efficiency. Surplus is unfortunately what drives prices down and becomes the force that can drive industries into oblivion.

    We all want to beleave that there is always a surplus of opportunity just around the corner of every transition (recesson), but there is no guarantee of it.

    Quite often we all look around and can’t see the forest for the trees. We believe things to be related in one way, but are ill-prepared to ‘change’ our ideas, social structure, and laws once we are proven wrong. More often than not, the persons most affected by a change in efficiency(ies) are first to call on government, culture, or charity to insulate them from said change(s) in efficiency(ies).

    Given, other parts of the planet are even more prone to this than here in America, but it is healthy to take note that we are becoming a little bit more like the rest of the world, and thus don’t have all of the advantages referrenced in your article…at least as much as we used to…

  • mnemos

    I’ll be back to this site because I’m interested in the conversation, but I have to say my initial reaction to this idea is skepticism. At the moment the legal profession is at most second to the financial profession in political clout, and they are not interested in efficiency. In particular, beyond the standard “how to break a contract and get away with it” job done by many lawyers which is an inherently wasteful form of friction, there is a movement specifically devoted to prohibiting efficiency in legal matters. They are fighting and winning the argument to disallow standard legal documents like wills to be drawn up via software packages. Yes there are software packages that can be used to draw up a standard will and in general not complicated, but depending on what state you live in, it is not valid unless a lawyer has signed off on it. In Louisiana someone was brought to trial for helping poor people fill out standard wills. A bill in CT proposed making any real estate transaction invalid unless signed off by at least one lawyer. This change is not going to be easy in the US, and would not expect it to be quick relative to other countries.

  • thibaud

    No mention of the most important resource of all, our people. The picture here is decidedly mixed. We continue to produce a huge number of the world’s outliers: ferociously ambitious borderline personalities like Steve Jobs; flamboyant experts in advertising themselves like Madonna or Warhol or Mailer; rebels, flakes, dreamers etc.

    But the _median_ level of achievement has gone down steadily over the last 40 years, for two main reasons:

    1) the self-destructive behaviors and failures associated with the black underclass have now gone mainstream in the white and hispanic working classes;

    2) the underclass itself has not only not been reduced, it’s nearly doubled due to our importation of >10m semiliterate and illiterate peasants from the south.

    THe net is that, at the high end, we will continue to produce an unfair share of the world’s brilliant innovators and radical value creators. But the vast majority of US society is likely to continue to slide further and further down to parity with third world societies.

    In short, we’re becoming the intellectual equivalent of a Roman oligarchy: a tiny few superachievers atop a mountain of intellectual proles.

  • Mike Field

    Several institutional factors affect American productivity and future development.

    One) Offshoring

    Offshoring may be a consequence of obsolete and monopolistic supply chain systems in the Unites States, i.e. “middlemen”.

    Offshoring may represent an effort to do an end run on American regulations, fallout from civil rights enforcement, affecting personnel practices.

    Two) American Education

    The educational system fails to develop the people who live here. Minority education is worthwhile goal, but in science and engineering the majority population is a proven entity.

    The failure of American education feeds offshoring and the importation of foreign born technical and scientific workers. Some of these are highly qualified people, but some the product of programming and engineering “boot camps” or simply have more limited education and experience than they are represented as having. At least put native-born workers on an equal footing with the foreign born workers.

    Three) Anti discrimination Law

    Anti discrimination law bans aptitude testing and in other ways puts barriers in the way of upward mobility for native born workers, perhaps even minority group members in many cases. This is an issue did not belong in the hands of the Supreme Court, but court took it over in the early 1970s. Changing the law, at this point, will have no effect on business practice. Business will not go back to aptitude testing in the face of an ever dubious legal climate, unless business is forced to. In any case, civil rights law has forced business to emphasize formal qualifications (job related degrees) over aptitude and the potential for future development. One effect of this is to move the job ladder downward, as many college graduates work in civil service jobs intended for blue collar workers with a lesser educational level or in service jobs such as waiter which may pay well but offer little future. Again, minority outreach is necessary and valuable, but it never should have implemented at the expense of twisting everybody else into a tight knot. Aptitude testing and latitude in hiring in general allowed many people to jump start their careers. Now latitude is limited to members of “underrepresented” and “suscept” group, which everyone else suffers untoward restrictions.

    Maybe it too late to drain the swamps. If so, then it a forced march to the bottom for most of the American population.

  • Tom Larkin

    How disappointing! Mead is my second favorite journalist/commentator behind Thomas Sowell. This article shows how difficult it will be to correct the economy and to fix the national political agenda. Mead simply does not understand the fundamentals. I will be happy to direct him to workable solutions if he chooses to contact me directly.

  • peter davis

    Professor Mead does seem to accept the need to reduce the size and scope of government.
    This, however, will require dismantling the vast array of politically attractive programs and laying off millions of disfunctional, non-productive people. The challenge Professor Mead fails to address is how to accomplish this. American ingenuity and new technologies will certainly create more wealth; however, the trend so far has been for expanding governments to usurp new wealth faster than it is created.

    A truly fundamental change—especially in a democratic country—will take a long time, perhaps more than fifty years. Lots of reforms would have to happen, but the two major ones are education and welfare.

    People need to be educated to be truly self-sufficient and this would involve far more technical skills as well as instilling a willingness to do physical work.

    Most welfare programs, the artificial protection received by unions and many government jobs need to be eliminated. Those displaced who cannot find alternative employment should be offered WORKFARE. Workfare programs, however, need to be insulated from political manipulation and operated by the private sector on a contract basis.

    When people are educated to be self-sufficient and capable, the need for workfare programs will start to decline. Many of the posts make the point that prosperity will return if free markets are allowed to flourish. This is entirely true, but free markets can’t happen when half the population does not understand how wealth is created and are hooked on redistribution. This is why education is critical. Workfare programs are also critical, because without them it is politically impossible to outvote excessive entitlements, unions and government employees.

    Even with a good workfare program, the challenge will be great.

  • Willy H

    “In the energy sector, homegrown shale gas and shale oil plus large new discoveries in the western hemisphere suggest that 21st century America will enjoy secure access to an abundant and varied mix of fuel from nearby and friendly neighbors.”

    – Indeed, shale gas and oil are in vogue right now. How much energy is used during extraction? and what environmental damage (polluted fresh water) will be incurred in order for us to exploit this resource ? There is a lot of spin coming from the energy lobby on how cheap this energy could be with little if any facts to back their assertions. How many tax breaks will they be extorting from our government. Canada’s “friendly oil” (aka bitumen) is produced from burning natural gas (a clean buring fossil fuel*) and polluting millions of gallons of fresh water. It’s possibly th e dirtiest energy on the planet.
    *Natural gas production peaked in the mid-90’s in NA.

    “Blessed by a favorable climate and rich soil, our agricultural productivity will continue to astound.”

    – Our agricultural productivity relies heavily on cheap energy and cheap fertilizer without which our productivity will undoubtedly decline. Our arable land has been degraded with our soils becoming little more than sponges for fertilizers and chemicals. The run off results in toxic algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, an under-water holacaust for marine life.

    “Our geographical location, which gives us access to both of the world’s greatest ocean trading basins while protecting us against invasion by other great powers, remains a tremendous advantage.”

    – Yes, the world’s ocean’s are in a sense a protective water wall around the Americas but they will only remain a trading asset so long a cheap oil allows for low transport costs from Asia & the Mid East. However “peak oil” will inevitably lead to a return of textiles, steel, and manufacturing industries to America. When oil trades at over $120 a barrel it is no longer cost effective to import steel from China. The world is going to get a lot smaller and real fast. The global market is about to downsize.

    The rest of your “secret weapon” theory is based on the historical Anglo-American experience in the West since the advent of capitalism to the present day. However this entire period was underpinned by “abundance” (vast unexploited resources) around the world. Unfortunately with 500 million new Chinese/Indian now firmly entrenched in the consumer class we are beginning to tax the planets resources. In other words we are entering the “Age of Scarcity”. We have burned through half the worlds known “easy” oil and will burn through the remaining half twice as fast. In the coming decades we are about to experience something truly unprecedented in modern times. The economic pie is about to shrink.

    This most likely explains why our federal reserve does financial back-flips when calculating our inflation rate and real GDP.

  • Charles Oltorf

    Far better than having a computer guess a judge’s decision would be to have the computer BE the judge. The whole point of having a “rule of law” is to reduce the caprice of human judgement and the attendant propensity for corruption. In the future we should aspire to get rid of lawyers and judges altogether and spare our country the huge amount of wasted money that our unpredictable and unjust legal system represents.

  • Toni

    My late response:

    Um…people have been predicting the microchip+bandwidth future since at least 1996 and probably before. I did a story that year in which I quoted a telecom techie saying he could theorize a way for a doctor in the U.S. to perform surgery on someone on another continent. That hasn’t materialized—yet—but the Kindle, the iPad and all sorts of other wonders have. Saying “Here’s where the opportunities are” is not new.

    Also, re the legal field, I think you underestimate the human factor. Would you really trust a lawsuit, one that was really important to you, to the verdict of faceless computer programs, even if your lawyer said it was your best bet? On the flip side, especially if lawyers’ incomes are falling, I could foresee a lot of naïve clients being scammed by colluding, conniving lawyers.

    Plenty of folks here have said government is the problem, not the solution; if they hadn’t, I would. The Depression lasted over a decade. Eight decades later, we now have the Great Recession, the longest slump since the Depression. What else do they have in common but a president and a government determined to be very involved in the economy? Doing so, they hurt the economy.

    FDR believed Keynes, saw the need to correct excesses, but meddled relentlessly except when the Supreme Court stopped him, and didn’t cease until WWII forced him to unleash capitalism to get the tanks and airplanes we needed. Like cousin Teddy, he believed he was on the side of the angels. He was Blue.

    Obama is Deep Blue. From the get-go, he has intended to transform America according to his lifelong belief that Reagan Red is deeply wrong, and that only much, much more Blue can make this country what it ought to be. The Pelosi/Reid Congress enacted what they could until voters called a halt and took away the House.

    Obama is the Leader of the Free World. Yet he was way, way behind Prof. Mead in discovering the importance of shale oil and gas and of brown jobs. If you read the SOTU and his energy proposals, you’ll see he wants to jump on the bandwagon (and have the government steer it). But the Keystone decision shows his Deep True Blueness.

    That is, as recent history demonstrates, government is abysmal at picking winners (e.g., Solyndra), and even amazing accomplishments like the space program come at breathtaking cost. What government needs to do is create a stable and predictable climate, in laws, regulations and taxes, so that people from garage tinkerers to CEOs of behemoth corporations know they can invest their efforts and their money in hopes of a reasonable return.

    How to reconcile this need with your project, Prof. Mead, I can’t say. But there’s only so much government can do, and the subset of what it can do effectively and without pernicious unintended consequences is smaller still.

    Consider this. The Progressive goal of caring for the helpless has been accomplished; what able-bodied adults do is up to them. Perhaps what we need now is a 21st-c. version of 19th-c. or even 18th-c. America. One in which individuals are truly free to pursue their dreams, even when they dream of riches.

    ExxonMobil and Apple are result of the dreams of John D. Rockefeller and Steve Jobs, respectively, and to label one bad and the other good would be simplistic and false. The shale revolution would never have happened without big oil companies’ resources; they could afford to pursue promising technologies when oil and gas prices were low and smaller companies were dying. Jobs, for his part, nearly drove Apple out of business at one point. God makes no promises, even to saints.

    Let’s have an America where individuals’ and families’ lives are controlled by neither Big Business nor Big Government, and aren’t shackled by ever-growing debt run up by the latter. If Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson and the rest could tell us what to pare away, in order to achieve a stable and prosperous society, where would they begin?

    Of course, they’d be astonished at our collective lack of virtue. But they well knew, you can’t force men and women to be virtuous.

  • “We change faster than others do in response to new opportunities and new technological possibilities — but we don’t lose our balance in the process.” — Yes, a characteristic of US American culture. This type of flexibility is part of the blues and jazz that I study but is rarely mentioned overtly in commentary bc the US does not privilege the influence of culture in explaining the nation’s success or as having meaningful impact on business development, technological innovation, etc.

    “America is good at change. We absorb immigrants better than most. We like new things and like to try them out. We have an optimistic streak in our nature; we believe that change is basically good and that being open to new things will make us happier and better off.” Yes — from the blues… (country music, etc.,) the blues is not the music of self-pity but is affirmative in its ability to confront hardship, “sing about it” and transform it into productive energy…

    “America’s critical comparative advantage in the 21st century will be its ability to respond quickly to change: to recognize and exploit new opportunities faster than others, to retool its core institutions and practices to fit the emerging shape of the new world, and to do all that while retaining its political and social equipoise: to ride the whirlwind and direct the storm.” Again, all lessons from US culture and why we need more of this cultivated in society now.

    Luke Lea and The Radical Moderate — excellent points, insightful. So much to read here….

    Also, I do not see the law as being progressive or nimble enough to change quickly. I see the law in quite the opposite way – law changes slowly and painfully slowly as the Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights Movements make clear. If the US denies a portion of its citizens rights; then, we spend time lagging behind in a number of ways that stalls our collective progress. Where is the change to tax codes and corporate laws that have helped widen income inequality?

  • Dave Mason

    Oh, fear not, fellow Americans, the humble immigrant. Selectively throw open your doors to the rest of the world’s best and brightest. If you can’t produce these people domestically then seduce them from abroad while you are still attractive enough to do so. Let them bring their creativity here to benefit us all, as long as other countries are foolish enough to let them go. And do this before the world gets any smaller.

  • Best and Brightest, Not Worst, Dimmest and Least Law-Abiding

    Dave, for the same reason we want to attract to America the world’s best and brightest (improving our human capital and per-capita education/skills levels and per-capita GDP, otherwise known as living standards), we need to ensure we are not overwhelmed by the world’s worst and dimmest.

    Immigration is only as good as the immigrants that comprise it, and it can be a double- (or infinite-) edged sword.

    Immigrants can improve our population’s ability to compete in a global economy if they have the capabilities to compete. If (or when) they don’t, they hurt our ability to do this. As important as it is to improve our human capital, it’s equally vital not to bring it down!

    Let the best and brightest in. But just as important is making sure we actually enforce our laws vis-a-vis the worst, dimmest and least law-abiding … which Obama is explicitly not doing.

  • Neil Murphy

    @kris: if you ever go to Eire you will discover hardly anyone bothers to speak Gaelic, so classifying it as part of the English speaking world is quite legitimate.

    @soul: what you say is undoubtedly true, but if all American companies do that you will be left with most of the population doing nothing at all, being government workers or selling things to each other. You have to sell to people outside the US as well in order to pay for what you bring in. This is a fundamental problem the US faces – it does not produce enough good and services to pay for what it buys in.

  • DFE

    Excellent series. As an American living abroad for the past 6 years I offer the observation that the American narrative lacks a cohesive or sufficiently energetic articulation of the power of individual engagement with the rest of the world. While living and travelling abroad, my children have been exposed to the myriad cultural, religious and economic alternatives available to those with whom they will compete or otherwise engage. This will be their advantage in their chosen professions. Our immigrant history should enable more informed engagement with the rest of the world. The ‘melting pot’ traditionally valued the shedding of individual identity and language in the name of the common culture. We must reexamine this process and elevate our existing or newly acquired language and cultural knowledge to a prime feature of the new infostructure.

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