Wednesday, December 29, 2010
TAKING STOCK - December 30, 2010
As we come to the end of the first decade of the XXI Century, it is time to see where we have come in recent time and to compare it to the accomplishments of the preceding 50 years. The comparison should be humbling, and to indicate where we have failed in building the world to be occupied by our children and grandchildren. 50 years ago we had just barely seen the first of the Sabin vaccine, hard on the heels of the Salk, and the trip to the moon was still sci-fi. Indeed, the Sputnik launch was still wet behind its ears, having appeared from seemingly nowhere to shake the hubristic dream of American scientific dominance. But these triumphs were small compared with the results that were to follow in the half century that marked US superiority in science, in culture, in industrial engineering and in many cultural and educational areas. US measured things in dollars, so the polio vaccines actually lost GDP in lowering the costs expended in the fear, cost and danger of the plague, which far outweighed the relatively trivial expenditure on the vaccine itself. Today we do not value in dollars any of the benefits of clean air and water, or of the vast blooming of graduate education here. The benefits we see in the science of the XXI Century are most evident on the wonderful mobile telephones and computer games, many of which feature simulated extermination. Lo, how the mighty have fallen. The major benefit we have from the abandonment of the effort to build the civilization is a modest reduction in taxes and a shrinking in our expectation for the lives of our descendants and a huge blooming in the prizes swept up by the members of the proprietor classes for nearly no accomplishment on their parts. The kept press keep telling us that we are much richer. Well, not richer in hope and certainly not in expectation. As long as we continue to follow that siren song, we will show the weakness in democracy, wherein the blandishments of the sirens of the rich make us all a lot poorer, through the seduction of the naïve.