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"One of the most enduring American traits is our belief in progress. Even in the direst times – the Great Depression, world wars, the Cold War – polls have shown a majority of us believing the future will be better, we and our families eventually will do better economically, our children will be better off than we are, the nation as a whole will progress, even the world will become a better place. But over the last two decades, that fundamental belief in progress has been shaken. Polls show fewer and fewer optimists, to the point where now a majority no longer believes the future will be better. This is one of the most fundamental changes in American character in history – with all sorts of implications for how we act. (For the record, I'm still a strong believer in progress, and I’ll explain why in a future post). How about you? Do you believe the future will be better, and why?"
This is truly worth pondering. I think Reich is correct that optimism has always been an American trait. But there are a few things here that make me want to back up a little. What does "a better future" mean? What does "progress" look like?
If "a better future" means endless economic growth -- children making more money and having more possessions and a bigger home than their parents -- then no, I don't think that's going to happen. But I also don't think that's better. We've based the American dream on materialism for too long -- on boundless growth and expansion. But it's time for a new American dream... or better yet, a new dream for the world, for all its peoples. Do I believe that we might "progress" to a future based on new and better values than endless material growth (and the environmental degradation that comes with it)? Yes, I do believe that that "better future" is possible.