Leon Fuerth Makes some really good points over at Kevin Drum’s “Washington Monthly”. Katrina has exposed major failures in our government, and there needs to be accountability.

But the social problems coming up in the next twenty years are breathtaking. “The National Science Foundation‘s reports on the social, economic and physiological effects of onrushing new sciences and technologies, such as nanotechnology, genetics, and informatics, for a wake-up call about what is perhaps only twenty years away.[…] In a democracy, we need time to register emerging issues; time to debate what to do about them; and time to do it.

The breathing spaces between major shocks are getting ever shorter – we need to anticipate them rather than just react to them. We have the analytic capacity to think about these things, but our political leadership doesn’t use it. For that to happen, we need a public which will push leaders to take the risk of preparing for problems early on, when it counts. I think blogs and blogging can be a part of that public argument, and would appreciate your comments as to how this might work.”

This current administration does not plan. They don’t believe in it. But to be ready for the shocks which are coming we have to plan and prepare the public.

One coming shock Leon doesn’t mention is the coming recognition of the loss of America’s imagined position as “The only Superpower.” If America ever had that position, we have left it in the sands of Iraq, and whatever might have straggled out of Iraq was drowned by Katrina and smothered under the deficit. A superpower exports goods. It doesn’t fight its wars and repair its damage using borrowed Chinese and Saudi Arabian money.

At some point very soon the American public is going to have to recognize that we belong to a world in which we are powerful, but not the unique power we were after WW II. Looking forward to the effects of things like as nanotechnology, genetics, and informatics is going to first have to pass the shock of realization that our status in the world has changed. While we have been watching people get blown up in Iraq, China has created an economic juggernaut. Trudy Rubin wrote a really good editorial that said (among other things):

Wander through some of Beijing’s many malls and watch crowds of young Chinese chatting on cellphones, roaming in and out of Nine West, Mr. Klein, Givenchy, Rolex watch stores, Starbucks, Pizza Hut or the local Cineplex, and you realize Americans have paid too little attention to the world’s biggest story.

The Chinese equivalent of yuppies, they have the name “xiao zi,” or “little bourgeois.”

China’s new middle class may already equal the population of the United States, so the “xiao zi” probably number in the tens of millions.

There will be real political repercussions as the recognition of Americas new international position sinks in. They will be comparable to the political reactions to the question “Who lost China?” asked by conservatives in the 1950’s. This time, though, the question will come from the Progressives.

Until that shock plays out, America is not going to be prepared to look at the more complicated shocks coming from science.

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