This post is part of our forum on Don Peck's September story, "Can the Middle Class Be Saved?"
Here are my thoughts in closing:
1. It is already clear that our willingness to "sacrifice" to solve various problems is quite limited. For better or worse, I don't expect that to change. Just take a look at the climate change debate. The cap-and-trade bill postponed higher energy prices for twenty years and still it failed when the Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency.
2. A lot of the problems with American poverty are sociological, not economic per se. The American poor are still much wealthier than most people in the world and much wealthier than a lot of very happy people in poorer countries. We can hope that social innovation makes poverty less of a problem, even if we don't soon get the "rising tide lifts all boats" economy that we are hoping for. This is sometimes considered a rude point to make, but some simple behavioral improvements, and a modicum of common sense, would make a lot of American poverty much less worse.
3. I am very focused on what the next technological breakthroughs will be, whether we are talking genome-based medicine, artificial intelligence, effective on-line education, or whatever. The optimistic scenarios, in my view, involve such technologies having broader social and economic payoffs.
I don't put much stock in solutions which try to replicate some aspect of our past and reproduce it. I don't always disagree with such ideas per se, rather I don't think it is where we are headed. We need to look for new, positive-sum solutions, based on social and technological innovations.
Our problems aren't going away soon, but I am cautiously optimistic. We have the hope of someday trading them in for bigger and grander problems, at a higher level of absolute achievement for our civilization.