Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

28 November 2013

Thanksgiving Message 2013


[For my recent essays on filibusters and gridlock, which are among my most popular, click here.]

Is this the worst of times? Or is it the best of times?

If you’re looking for trouble, you can find it. Our economy is still struggling. The healthcare.gov website is not running very well. The Affordable Care Act is suffering practical problems and delays. Cooperation in Washington is running about as well as healthcare.gov.

The Iranians are just as tough and wily bargainers as they’ve always been. “Bibi” Netanyahu is rattling the saber as hard as he can. Syria is in flames, and Iraq is getting there. China is trying to declare the disputed Daioyu/Senkaku Islands part of its territory. And global warming is accelerating, without much progress in Warsaw. Every informed person has a sneaking suspicion that hard storms like Sandy and Haiyan are just the beginning.

But look a little deeper, and you can find some things to give thanks for. Big things.

For what might be the first time in human history, there is not a single major-power leader who wants war. Vladimir Putin just made a last-minute deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons to avoid a wider war.

Xi Jinping’s feint toward the disputed Islands is undoubtedly meant to shore up his domestic political base and wise up his own warmongers. Our overflight will help him realize his consistent and primary goal: stability and prosperity for his people. The man who might have become China’s warmonger—Bo Xilai—is safely in jail. And Xi will be only too happy to deal with his biggest trading partner and national investment, rather than seeming to back down from a conflict with erstwhile invader Japan. No leader as smart as he is going to risk war for uninhabited islands, when only peace can let their oil and gas come out.

Our own needless wars are winding down. We are out of Iraq. We will soon be out of Afghanistan, perhaps with a residual training force to secure the modest but important gains we have made for Afghans. Our President is still on track to wind down our senseless Little Cold War with Iran, which has lasted longer than the big one with the Soviets, who are now history.

There are still a few little wars running all over the globe, not the least in Syria and the Congo. But no major power is directly involved. France may become involved only to put out some fires in Africa.

So the current pax atomica among major powers has held for over 78 years now. It promises global economic and social progress on an unprecedented scale. Just six months ago, The Economist reported an extraordinary thing. In the last twenty years, the global economy has raised one billion people out of extreme poverty. And it could do almost as well again in the next twenty years, at least if our species doesn’t waste our energy and resources fighting each other.

Along with the Brits, we Yanks can take much credit for this state of affairs. Our President is contributing mightily, taking the path of peace. Who better to wage peace than the strongest nation on Earth, which devotes almost as much money to defense as the rest of the world combined?

As for our domestic troubles, they, too, may be ending soon. Which do you think is harder: making a political deal for health-insurance reform, or fixing a website? Solving the former problem took a century. Think a technical fix will take that long? People are always harder than tech—especially known technology like websites.

Our famous national gridlock, too, seems about to end. The Senate just killed filibusters for executive and lower judicial appointments. Can filibusters for legislation and Supreme-Court nominees be far behind?

Winston Churchill once described us Yanks as always doing the right thing, after exhausting all the alternatives. We tried needless war under Dubya, and now we’re trying peace. The rest of the world seems ready for it. The Tea Party lies unmasked as a Southern invention, like the filibuster itself, designed to foist a largely alien regional culture on the rest of us Yanks. So we’re getting wise and beginning to restore democracy.

Even energy is going our way. We’re more independent in oil than we’ve been since 1995. We’re beginning to recognize that solar photovoltaic and wind energy are the cheapest sources of energy we know. Even Texas is investing in them.

The Saudis, like the Israelis, don’t like our current tack. They think we’re getting too independent and favoring Iran. But we’re not; we’re just favoring our own interest in a rational, stable, peaceful world. And if both the Saudis and the Israelis disagree with us, mustn’t we be right?

If you look backwards, you can feel down because of where we’ve been. But the darkest hour is just before dawn.

Now dawn is breaking. The immediate forecast spells peace with furious diplomacy abroad, renewed majority rule at home, and eventual success of the President’s historic health-insurance reform, after a year or so of much overhyped trial and error. Isn’t that how our species always proceeds: trial and error, two steps forward and one back?

A real expert (and the first woman) is about to take the reins at the Fed. She will receive them from the capable hands of Ben Bernanke, who helped save us from what could have been a second Great Depression when Congress wouldn’t. Now Morningstar’s experts worry about deflation, not inflation. [subscription required].

So as you take refuge from the early winter storm and enjoy your turkey, look on the bright side. Our common human race and our own country are showing distinct signs of growing up.

And what better day to celebrate growing up than Thanksgiving! It recalls no religion, no military triumph, and no disaster, just a simple feast of trust and friendship between native peoples and hard-pressed refugees in the New World. That’s why it’s my favorite holiday.

That first feast brought together people of vastly different histories and cultures. Today it can be a model for us and the world, and for our own country’s differing cultures. If we can just follow it, grasp the promises that history now offers, and avoid the pitfalls, we can make our little blue-green globe a paradise that only global cooperation can forge. The prospects for doing so are brighter now than ever in human history.

Let’s all give thanks for that.

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