The World My Son Will Inherit

My son Vishnu was born a bit more than three months ago – and what a wonderful whirlwind it has been! Being a father doesn’t leave much time for introspection, but now that I find myself thinking further into the future, I wonder: what sort of world are we leaving our children? The usual laments can be heard throughout mainstream media, that we are running up an insurmountable debt to be born by our children, that Medicare and Social Security are both going bankrupt, that global warming will wreak havoc, and so on. While it’s obvious that the media tends toward hyperbole to draw an audience, some of these are real concerns. Here’s my short list of major American and global issues, and why I’m an optimist with regard to most:

Global Warming: Let’s face it, even the CEI, a conservative think tank, admits that global warming is real, and that it’s caused by human activity. But while Al Gore depicts a worst-case scenario in which sea levels rise 7-20 feet, the latest research indicates that this isn’t likely to occur for several hundred years at minimum. There’s also a simple solution already being put into place in countries like Denmark. By taxing pollution while reducing taxes on other activities, governments can decrease pollution without harming growth. We will likely see this idea advance elsewhere.

Terrorism: How many people in the United States have died of terrorist attacks since 9/11? Zero. Throughout US history, how many people in the US have died from terrorism per year? Less than twenty. While politicians find it easy to scare up votes with threats of attack, the only real threat is that terrorists may eventually acquire nuclear or biological weapons. Fortunately, US efforts in this area have lately improved, though work remains to secure nuclear stockpiles and ensure that a truly horrific attack is avoided.

Peak Oil & Resource Depletion: Oil is a finite resource, and recent increases in oil prices are due to rapid fuel demand growth without the availability of additional easy-to-drill oil supplies. In the long run, oil prices will continue to rise as the world grows richer (and more car hungry) and the oil gets harder to find. Does $6 gas scare you? It shouldn’t, because in the long run, rising gasoline prices will force the transition to more efficient vehicles and other alternatives.

Medicare, Social Security, and US Debt: The US debt is 9 trillion and growing, and Social Security and Medicare together have future liabilities exceeding the future size of the US economy at current growth rates! Translation: we cannot afford to keep giving our seniors the income and medical benefits that we give them today. What, me no worry? The nature of democracy is not that it provides the optimal solution to a problem, but that it gets the problem solved once it gets bad enough (much better than monarchies and kleptocratic dictatorships that just leave their people starving). While I’m pessimistic that the US will fix its entitlement programs anytime soon, they will be restructured (and downsized) before they collapse, and our democracy will move on to the next big problem.

Every generation seems to yearn for the good old days, laments the current state of the nation, and can’t comprehend how we will move forward. And yet somehow, every generation, Americans are better off than they were before. This phenomenon has now caught on worldwide, as global economic growth has accelerated to its highest levels in decades recently. My generation will have to confront some of the problems above, and I’m sure we’ll punt some along to Vishnu’s generation. But I’ve little doubt in our capacity to keep fixing things and moving ahead: it’s just human nature.

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