If we put the interests of the American people first, we can lead our nation to a path of sustainable prosperity & security and become a role model for the world
Poll after poll confirms that the majority of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.
It can be argued that since the end of the Cold War about 25 years ago, our thinking has not been clear enough — our leaders too narrowminded, our policies too small and our actions too short-sighted — to fully understand what is happening and come up with a clear vision of how to address it.
Over the last quarter-century a new and complex challenge has arisen: The world is fundamentally unsustainable in macroeconomic, geopolitical, and ecological terms.
Unlike the scenario forced us on us during World War II or the threat of communism during the Cold War, today’s situation is vastly different. Americans make up only 5 percent of the total world population, our influence abroad is waning and while we claim to be the only superpower left, it is not enough to police the world or force democracy on nations who are fundamentally not ready for it. Today there are complex forces at work, which we cannot and should not try to control with force. None, however, is bigger than the fact that most countries’ growth and wealth are based on unsustainable practices.
It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that we should put the interest of our citizens first and practice sustainability, yet inherently that is one of the great strengths we possess. We can truly be self-sufficient and independent. We can feed our people, generate our own energy, manufacture our own goods and lead a path of innovation toward sustainability. Furthermore, we can become a role model for others to follow and help to lead the path towards global sustainable prosperity and, as a consequence, security.
Eight factors summarize the great challenges for the next few decades:
- Change is accelerating due to scientific advancements and the ability to share new findings
- Economic inclusion of billions of people into the global middle class.
- Natural resource depletion.
- Climate change.
- Stagnant Western economies.
- A deficit in civilian infrastructure and access to basic needs.
- A world in upheaval caused by Islamic extremism, Russia’s re-emerging quest for power and China’s rise in global status.
- Migrant populations.
On the plus side, there are trillions in capital sitting on the sidelines waiting to be deployed, and the convergence of science, technology and communications could result in real progress for civilization if it is properly channeled.
These challenges and opportunities are interlinked. Together, they contain the seeds of either global destabilization or global economic prosperity, but which seeds will bear fruit will in part depend on America’s willingness and ability to lead.
This requires an extraordinary response, reuniting the country around a shared vision. Fail, and our ability to secure the prosperity and freedom of our citizens is at risk. We could suffer major disruptions and irreparable harm from falling wages, resource conflicts and proxy wars as opportunistic leaders hedge uncertainty and manipulate the unmet expectations of vulnerable people.
We must lead the global transition to sustainability by re-establishing the American economy as the catalyst of global progress. America must start at home, rebuilding its economic engine by taking advantage of massive new pools of demand capable of unleashing sustained investment and purposeful innovation for decades. Walkable cities, organic and sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing are just some of the examples of the opportunities lying in front of us. This could put Americans and capital back to work, rebuilding our communities, reducing the carbon footprint and igniting a new American dream while restoring American manufacturing and exports.
A strong American economy would, in turn, set the boundaries of a new foreign policy. America would be able to use its restored credibility and influence to forge a broad global partnership rooted in a new consensus about the purposes and modalities of trade and development. We must work with like-minded nations to design a new global operating system and assure our partners and adversaries that we will stay the course. Backed by rising American prosperity, we will have the strength to provide the leadership, technology and know-how that can fuel the hope that all nations and people deserve to thrive.
This is a complex and global challenge that requires a new way of thinking. To remain the leader of the free world, we must meet this challenge with clear foresight and a bold, new strategy.
As Patrick Doherty and Mark Mykleby would say: “We’ve done this all before. It’s time to do it again!” *
* This article is inspired by consulting work done for the Strategic Innovation Lab at Case Western Reserve University, whose purpose is to deliver a new U.S. Grand Strategy package to the president. Patrick Doherty and Mark Mykleby are the co-directors of this entity.