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Saturday, June 05, 2004

Looking Forward

Bret, the jobs numbers are indeed good news. A U.S. economy that consistently adds 200,000 jobs per month for an extended period of time would be a very good thing for the country.

With all the disagreements we've had, I think that we (and the articles we've submitted) have given us a reasonable feel for the way things are, even though we disagree about motives and risks. Perhaps the next important question is what the best things to do are from now forward. But, as a final step in our assessment, I offer the following list of facts and ideas to which I think we agree:

- The U.S. invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his government. The U.S. and an interim council of Iraqis, with the help of the U.N., has appointed a government of prominent Iraqis to begin governing the country. Security is still a problem, with armed militias and malcontents, some so zealous in their hatred of the U.S. presence that they come from neighboring countries to try to kill U.S. soldiers and destory anything the forces of the U.S. create. Future scenarios include: blossoming of democracy as the interim government transitions to an elected government; civil war; a military figure asserts himself and becomes de facto head of state; a religious figure asserts himself and becomes de facto head of state. The policy of the state toward other countries, esp. the U.S., is unknown in all of these scenarios.

- The U.S. economy is showing steady signs of GDP growth, and productivity growth, and there are early signs of consistent job creation. The annual deficit is around 4%, but the tax base is expected to grow as the economy grows. Government spending has escalated dramatically, including large sums for outlays related to military campaigns. As a percentage of personal income, taxes are at or near a 50-year low. Long term obligations, primarily to healthcare, are hard to reconcile with a projected future tax base. (A Rosy Editorial: Since the long-term shortfalls are only projections, and rather long distance ones at that, it is customary to not worry too much about them since the whole arrangement of things can change so much within a two decade timeframe. For example, those who are currently projected to be retired may, in fact, be working far into old age, all the time paying much of their own way. Or perhaps the whole delivery model for healthcare will be radically transformed so that it becomes relatively inexpensive for people to take care of themselves. Or any number of other scenarios which will make the issue moot before it becomes a problem.)

- Some regions of the world remain at war. It is not unusual each year for more than one million people around the world to be violently killed by another human being with mal-intent. Tens of millions are sadly oppressed or miserable from want of food, clean water, medicine, or humane conditions.

- Although long-term effects are hard to estimate, the presence of six billion humans on the planet at this time appears to considerably affect many aspects of the Earth at both local and global levels, including its fisheries, its air, its water, its atmosphere, its organic coverage, its biodiversity, and its food chain.

- A capitalist economy has proven the predominant model for effective national and international wealth creation.

- A gradual liberalizing dynamic, in which greater and greater power is devolved to individuals, is underway across the globe, driven by the innate human desire to control one's own destiny and to make life better for oneself. Fed by ethnic, tribal and group affiliations, territorial claims, and religious and cultural beliefs - intolerance acts as a brake on liberalization, freedom, and empowerment of the individual. Terrorism is an extreme form of intolerance combined with a fanatical desire for retribution of perceived wrongs. Conveyed like a virus, response to terrorism tends to spread more intolerance even within the society that responds as well as within the receiving faction.

- Terrorists use powerful weapons of destruction. We wonder whether they will utilize even more powerful ones that we hear about frequently - chemical, biological, nuclear. We hope not and we take measures to prevent it being so, but we don't know how effective we are because we only need to misjudge the size of the problem by one person or a small organization.

In what ways, if any, would you modify the above high-level assessment? Whether you'd change anything about the assessment, or add to it to provide greater context for our present situation, what should the President of the United States do for the next four years?

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