Transition

Much talk has been made about the Obama transition, about his choices for White House staff, his picks for the Cabinet, and about the role of the Clintons.

Not much has been said about the much bigger transition that has engulfed our world. And that transition is to a brave new economic world that we are only right now beginning to grasp.

We know we are in a transition because there is so much turmoil in the world today. And that is what happens in a transition.

Think about the American and French revolutions at the end of the 18th century. Both signaled the end of the absolute monarchy and the feudal system and the beginnings of market capitalism and representative government.

Think about the Depression of 1890, as the horse-and-buggy era and the Pony Express ended and the automobile and the telegraph eras started.

Think about the Great Depression, as an emerging global financial system collapsed, and the first stiff challenge to market capitalism and representative government came from the twin threats of communism and fascism.

And then think about the revolutions of 1968, where Western society transitioned from white male dominance to a more egalitarian, more multicultural society with more access to power for blacks and women and more tolerance for homosexuals.

We are now in another transition. This transition can be either extraordinarily painful, as was the French Revolution and the Great Depression, or relatively painless, as was the end of the Cold War and the civil rights revolution.

It all depends on how our political leaders handle it.

Much has been made about how what we are going through today is like the Great Depression. I, myself, have engaged in some Great Depression nostalgia.

But this is not the Great Depression.

Back then, much of the country didn’t have access to electricity. Most of the citizens didn’t graduate from high school. Starvation was a real concern for many of our citizens. Unemployment was at 30 percent. International trade stopped because of stupidly high tariffs. Information was impossible to get except through the radio — and many Americans couldn’t afford a radio. Most Americans didn’t own a car. Sanitation was an afterthought. Disease caused by unsanitary conditions was common. The average life expectancy was around 60.

Today, every American has access to electricity. Obesity is a bigger concern than starvation. The unemployment rate may hit 8 percent, but right now is at 6 percent. International trade is robust. Information is instantaneous and ubiquitous. Watching too much television concerns parents, and the Internet is available to all. Most Americans do own a car, but more Americans should bike to work. Sanitation has limited disease, and the average life expectancy is closing on 80 years.

Our leaders must embrace the future, not pine for the past.

They must help us understand that global trade helps everybody, and high tariffs hurt everybody.

They must help us prepare for the future by creating a national infrastructure, not only for roads and bridges, but also for clean, cheap energy and for efficient date transfer, including 3G, Wi-Fi and whatever the latest broadband development is.

They must help protect citizens from the bad guys, the crooks, the grifters, the Internet bandits, the pirates, the drug lords.

They must weed out government corruption, and crack down on the monopolists who restrain innovation and steal inventions.

They must find ways to allow all of our citizens to realize their full potential, because everybody has a gift that they can share with the world.

And they must understand that America is a not just a country, but also an idea. And that idea is that all kinds of people can live together, work together and prosper together, in a place that puts more value on hard work and talent than it does on birthright, class or race.

If we have those kinds of leaders, we will get through this transition just fine.


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