2016 March 03 Thursday
Can We Shift From Indefinite Back To Definite Future?

Hearing so much about Donald Trump and "Making America Great Again" brings to mind a book I'm reading: Peter Thiel, in his excellent book Zero To One, divides societies by whether they are optimistic or pessimistic and definite or indefinite. The latter division is between societies who want to achieve specific goals and those that don't. Take the big dams, big bridges, and Apollo program. These are definite society goals. Take the government as one big insurance program (health care, old age, etc). Those are indefinite society goals. Thiel argues America has transitioned from optimistic definite to optimistic indefinite. I suspect the optimistic part of it has substantially weakened as well.

We collectively no longer try to do great things. As the welfare programs have grown the amount of money left over for big achievement goals has dwindled pretty steadily. Everything else has gotten squeezed. We can't do big things any more. Take the Apollo program for example. It was around 1% of GDP for some years. Getting that portion of GDP allocated some some big projects today would be extremely difficult. Old folks and poorer minorities would oppose taking money away from helping them. So I'm skeptical the mood of the country can be turned around via prestige projects. I think demographics weigh against this. Also, future prospects for big national prestige projects look even dimmer as US national government debt continues to grow.

What else weighs against a return to definite optimism: We are pretty far away from the days when incomes rose for all social classes at a pretty steady clip. Granted, a halt and reversal of flow of lower skilled labor into the country (imagine Trump succeeds at this) would help the lower tiers. But technological trends are concentrating most earnings increases into the top 10%. Also, big national construction and technological achievement projects would cost too much given the growing welfare state and .

If Donald Trump gets elected, builds a wall with Mexico, and deports millions of illegal aliens (while still letting in highly skilled workers btw) I certainly think our lower and middle classes will benefit. But I do not think that Trump can implement policies that will cause such big changes as to restore the feeling of definite optimism that once characterized American attitudes.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2016 March 03 09:16 PM 

aandrews said at March 4, 2016 8:21 PM:

"Old folks and poorer minorities would oppose taking money away from helping them."

It was opposed then for that exact reason.

"On the day of the [Apollo 11] launch, [Ralph] Abernathy led a small group of protesters to the restricted guest viewing area of the space center and chanted, 'We are not astronauts, but we are people.'" (Wikipedia)

Wolf-Dog said at March 4, 2016 9:45 PM:

Although there won't be any future "prestige" government projects of the scale of Apollo, at least military (and related)spending is still significant, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Military research later leads to more esoteric, eccentric and game-changing technologies because it involves more new science than purely commercial technological research, since corporations are concerned with more tangible profitability in the short and intermediate future. Initially Internet was a military project as a direct consequence of the Cold War, and commercial Internet would have been delayed by at least 30-40 years without that original government vision, Google search would have been delayed by 30-40 years! Similarly, the commercial nuclear reactors exist only because the original military dimension that was recognized during World War II, otherwise no private company would have risked such unknowns to develop reactors. The current "modern" uranium reactors are still merely incremental improvements, making very few improvements, since minimal money is spent by corporations to develop these. The government killed the working thorium molten salt reactor prototype during the 1970s because Nixon thought that in the short term inefficient but already working uranium reactors would create more jobs; since then the molten salt thorium reactors have not been developed, and any commercial interest is incredibly slow and hopelessly underfunded. Even transistors (heart of computing) were developed by AT & T because the government gave the company monopoly rights (not directly a military project, but still, with that view in mind the gov't gave direction to AT & T).

Nobody accused Noam Chomsky of being a militarist warmonger, and he is certainly not right wing, but in this video he gives full credit to the military and government financed science and technology as a critical driving force for future inventions that literally change the world for the better. Incredible video:


But even without a new cold war, even a small fraction of the welfare and pork barrel money would be very helpful for futuristic research. More money for science education would be great. Online universities for technical skills would be great.

According to the prestigious Shanghai International Ranking of Universities, not a single German university is in the top 40, which is shocking:


However, German companies and the German government work together to tailor many two year professional schools to train highly skilled workers that are second to none, and as a result, in proportion to its population Germany actually has a much greater trade surplus than China!!! Clearly we don't need a Manhattan Project or an Apollo program to finance a worker training program to re-industrialize the US, we just need some wise decisions. In fact, in the latter website of Shanghai International Rankings of Universities, if you click on the subsections for pure sciences or engineering, you will see that not a single German university is in the top 30. This is shocking precisely because German manufacturing and quality control is so legendary.

Wolf-Dog said at March 4, 2016 9:57 PM:

And you don't need a very high IQ to be a highly skilled worker. Just slightly above IQ will do just fine if you are determined and goal-oriented.

Brett Bellmore said at March 5, 2016 5:50 PM:

I think at this point it's probably not realistic to expect the old US of A back. The effects of having a frontier lingered for a while, but they're gone. The regulatory sclerosis has set in, big time. We might reverse it to some extent with good leadership, but we won't be the nation we were again any time soon.

What me might anticipate is a gradual progress, until colonization of space begins, and then the future resumes out in space, and maybe drags the Earthbound along with it. That frontier turns out to be rather important.

Wolf-Dog, I work for an American subsidiary of a German company, and what you say is true. But, will it be true much longer? Merkle threw open the gates, and the barbarians swarmed in. I don't see that being reversed easily, short of some really ugly events, and she's fighting to keep those gates open as long as possible.

How long can Germany retain it's edge under these circumstances? I don't know, I'm expecting terrorism to continue trending up in Europe, especially once the infiltrators who are already through the gate have time to organize.

Seth W. said at March 8, 2016 2:15 PM:

"If Donald Trump gets elected, builds a wall with Mexico, and deports millions of illegal aliens (while still letting in highly skilled workers btw) I certainly think our lower and middle classes will benefit."

No middle classes will benefit if that happens. In fact a lot of people in Mexico are actually wishing for Trump to build a wall and hope that will also include a disinterest from Washington towards Mexico, just like a helpless enslaved constantly-raped boy would hope that his abuser loses interest in him.

Most people in the US are oblivious to how much the economy depends on Mexico and the southern tropical and subtropical countries in general. If Donald Trump builds a wall with Mexico it will be worse than bad for the US. It will be one of the worst stupidities any American president could ever do for the US. Mexicans will continue to raise their chickens and grow their produce in their backyards all year around. Mexico will continue having their "tianguis" market places everywhere, where people can exchange, buy and sell all sorts of goods like food, tools, autoparts, cars, clothes etc. Mexico is actually producing, creating, building and making things that we are not.

Trump's strident tone is reminiscent of dictators Benito Mussolini and Hitler, only Hitler was a lot smarter than Trump, and even so, in the end no matter how tough and smartass some dictators might become, the rest of the world kicks their ass, and in the process the numbed alienated population of the country also gets its ass kicked. Now it seems to be that the ass-kicking is going to be prescribed to the U.S.

atahualpa yupanqui said at March 9, 2016 1:19 PM:

Most people in Mexico are hoping Donald Trump really builds a wall.

atahualpa yupanqui said at March 9, 2016 1:37 PM:

If D.T. really builds a wall in Mexico it'll only backfire for the U.S. All those dumb asses who support that have wathced too many low budget futuristic films.

atahualpa yupanqui said at March 9, 2016 2:17 PM:

Trumpís brand of politicking and his strident expressions tend to pose very easy, simple solutions to problems that, of course, are not so easily solved. Trump has abused and misdirected the peopleís economic frustrations just as Hitler and Mussolini did.

This strident rhetoric has only led to very ominous situations in the history of humanity. Thatís how Mussolini got in, that's how Hitler got in, they took advantage of a situation, a problem perhaps, which humanity was going through at the time, after an economic crisis.

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