But for people who are more interested in shaping the future, it’s important to grasp that this is one of those times when politics feels more important than usual but in fact matters less. The status quo doesn’t fit well and doesn’t work well so we look toward politics for answers, but the politicians don’t have what we need.
This is not anybody’s fault. As regular readers know, our view is that the US stands at an uncomfortable transition point between eras. We are between social models. The blue model of twentieth century mass production, mass consumption society based on stable corporate oligopoly, bloc voting and government regulation in a relatively closed national economy has foundered and it cannot, so far as we can see here, be restored. But we have at best only a very dim and incomplete sense of what could replace it.
This means that we are at a moment of maximum discomfort nationally, and we want our politicians and leaders to fix things — but that neither party really knows what to do. On the whole, the Democrats stand for restoring the blue model and Republicans oppose that and so far, so good. The choices between the parties seem to be growing more clear as the problems resulting from the decay of the blue model take a larger toll.
Yet neither party can offer the smooth path to a stable and affluent future that voters want. The Democrats know what they want but can’t deliver it because it is undeliverable. The Republicans know what they don’t want but are not able to describe the future they would like to see — much less show how they can manage the transition fairly and kindly because they don’t really know what the goal looks like.
Our problem is that the time isn’t ripe: the real work of our society right now isn’t about political competition. It is about re-imagining, reinventing and restructuring core institutions and professions. Our health care system is wasteful and poorly organized and if in the next generation we don’t fundamentally reorganize it the country will go broke. Our educational system from kindergarten through grad school needs a variety of upgrades and innovations. Mass employment through manufacturing cannot support the kind of middle class society it once did; conventional big box retail cannot do it; government employment and subsidies can’t do it. Americans must find new ways to organize themselves for work and production, and we must learn to produce different (better and more interesting) goods. We must complete the transition from a late stage industrial society to an early stage information society and it’s something that nobody has ever done before in the history of the world.
Neither party, it must be emphasized, knows what to do about these issues. To a very large degree the solutions are outside politics. Policy and therefore politics will play a significant role ultimately in either furthering or retarding the changes we need, but so much of the shape of the future is still unknown that nobody can really tell us what should be done and in what order to create the best possible conditions in which a brighter future most quickly and most stably emerge.
I’m not convinced that an “information society” is a viable model, but we are in transition from an industrial society to something else. Politics will not control that change, it will reflect the change.
The institutions of society (government, religion, law) are by their nature conservative. They will resist change. The marketplace adapts first. Back in the Sixties they said that computers would change the world. They were right, but their predictions about how it would change were mostly wrong.