Walter Russell Mead, an astute historian and commentator on American history and current events, recently wrote an article on our American history of failing our way to success. His first paragraph is a fun mind game.
As Americans struggle to make sense of a series of uncomfortable economic changes and disturbing political developments, a worrying picture emerges of ineffective politicians, frequent scandals, racial backsliding, polarized and irresponsible news media, populists spouting quack economic remedies, growing suspicion of elites and experts, frightening outbreaks of violence, major job losses, high-profile terrorist attacks, anti-immigrant agitations, declining social mobility, etc. etc. etc.
Mead then reverts to our world. He’s aware that it will a very long time before it becomes clear what a fully mature information economy might look like. He points out that if people and the 1860s and 1870s had been told that only two percent of the population would earn a living on the farm in the twentieth century, they could never imagine what jobs the displaced farmers could find. The full consequences of the knowledge economy and the information age will only come into view on a very slow time table. The implication, however, is that getting caught in the grip of profound pessimism and giving up on government, business and the nation is highly unrealistic.
But he draws some interesting conclusions about...