While we’re all starting to get charged up about the next Presidential election, and why Ford is dropping most sedan production and Amazon’s next move, it might be good to step back and look at a bigger picture.
This country, as well as the world, is going through more changes now than we’ve ever gone through. They will have a direct impact on, not just how we live, but in some cases, if we live.
* Climate change. The planet is heating up. We’re having storms we’ve never had before. A record breaking cold in our north at the same time Australia is having a record-breaking heat wave; tires and roads literally melting. During the summer before last, parts of the middle east were well over 120 degrees. Oops! Sorry, that was Phoenix, Arizona. It was so hot planes couldn’t take off.
Yet we’re still arguing over whether climate change is real.
* Economy. The disparity between the poor and the wealthy is greater than it was in the Gilded Age. Remember when everyone wanted to be a millionaire? Now millionaires are a dime a dozen (if you’ll pardon the expression). Today it’s all about billionaires. In 1986, Sam Walton was the richest American with $4.5 billion. Today, the richest American is Jeff Bezos with $160 billion. There was less wealth disparity in the 50’s, with a high tax rate 70%, than we have now, with a high tax rate of 37%. The buying power of the middle class – heck the middle class itself – is disappearing. And that’s happening just as robots are arriving to take human jobs, robots that will do everything from picking out items in Amazon warehouses to helping a surgeon do a 4-way bypass.
The disparity is so widespread we’re actually questioning the validity of the economic system that got us here: capitalism.
* US Leadership of the World. We’re losing our leadership position of the Western World. After WWII, we were the country with the power to make things right, to keep bad guys at bay. Now, as a result of stupid wars and stupid leadership, we are losing that respect. There’s a funny thing about leadership – a leader without followers is just a person with a big mouth and no audience. Between over-reach of assorted Presidents in the past 20 years and the pure disrespect for our current President, we’re fast becoming unimportant.
That has enormous potential for trouble – worldwide – as bad guys like China and Russia fill the vacuum and assert their leadership.
* Culture change: From the founding fathers up to the 50’s, the US was led primarily by WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). In the last 70 years, that has changed as different immigrant groups arrived and started moving up the ladder, as African Americans stopped being held back and started moving up the ladder, as women stopped being tolerated and started up the ladder. Now everyone can compete and WASPs are becoming less important. The country is finally becoming the melting pot we always claimed to be.
From Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue to Main Street, the culture is more complex and diverse than ever. Who is an American is harder to answer and more hotly debated than ever before.
* Industrial Age vs Computer Age. The industrial revolution arrived in the middle of the 1800’s and sent the agrarian economy packing within a few decades. Kids left farms for factories. African Americans left the south in a huge migration to factories in the north. Silicon Valley, once a place of oranges and grapefruits is now the change agent for, not just the country, but the world.
Those who aren’t conversant with computers have no one to converse with or about.
* Politics. Everywhere you look around the world, you see political change. Rightist governments are popping up everywhere, from Europe to the Philippines. Democracy, once the aspiration of peoples across the world, is being challenged by the rise of demagogues. In this country, we are having a genuine debate between capitalism and socialism.
Which way will we go? Who knows?
These are not just a few changes. They are not minor. They are many and more varied than we have ever seen at one time. How we manage these changes, how we adapt to them, how we use them to better ourselves and others, is critical. Because they are happening now, not next year or next decade. Now.