This post is part of our forum on Don Peck's September story, "Can the Middle Class Be Saved?"
I will end my contribution here on an atypically--at least for me--downcast note about the likely development of the problem we have been discussion.
For me this is atypical because - like my colleagues in this discussion - I maintain a healthy and admiring respect for the American system's overall ability to adapt and innovate. That has been true over the centuries, most notably as immigrant groups that seemed to be "permanently" ineligible for full participation in the American system have one after another been absorbed: first Germans in the mid-19th century, then Irish later in that century, then Southern and Eastern Europeans of all ethnicities and "races" (including Jews) before World War I, and the broad sample of the world's population--Vietnamese, Persians, Cubans, Mexicans, Koreans, Russians--in the past half-century. The process of assimilation always causes friction, it's never complete, and it always works alongside the lasting consequences of institutionalized inequality, e.g. from the centuries of Africa slavery and another hundred years of anti-black segregation. But the integration of any given group has almost always been more successful than people would have predicted about that group 20 years earlier.
Like my colleagues, I also assume that scientific and technological breakthroughs, while individually unpredictable, will continue to appear frequently enough to create opportunities we can't now imagine and to solve problems that now seem insuperable. Take the modest example of GPS: barely discussed in economic literature or business predictions a generation ago, now the linchpin of many industries and the base for businesses that never existence before. Genomics will probably make the life sciences the next arena for this kind of predictably-surprising innovation. I'm less confident that the energy field will be so innovative, but I certainly hope it will be.
And, finally still on the optimistic front, I remain impressed by what the vast, lumbering, quarrelsome beast of the American polity can do when jolted out of its normal preoccupations. It's a cliché, but it's still important and true, that for about two months after the 9/11 attacks ten years ago, it would have been possible to address almost any of the "impossible" problems of American politics.