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未来10年的10项建议  

2010-03-27 22:20:47|  分类: 时事 热点 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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未来10年的10项建议                                                    消息来源:时代周刊

《时代周刊》311封面文章 10 ideas for the next 10 years 主要由美国的新美国基金会(NewAmerica Foundation)的若干研究员撰写。他们在以各自的眼光审视着美国社会和美国与世界的关系。

未来10年的10项建议 - al老虎 - 活在过去

  下一个美国世纪

  美国今后10年是第二个更彰显其特征的10年。全球美国化的趋势在可预见的未来一段时期会比以往更明显。美国虽在此10年内遭遇种种困境,犯下有损美国可信性的错误,但它们也成为难以令人信服的,美国会走到如此糟糕境地的提示。经济紊乱时期只是凸显美国经济在敏捷和可适应性上的竞争优势。

  仅占全球人口5%人口的美国产出了世界经济总量的25%。即使世界上已出现了多个新的经济大国,但无一能挑战美国方式。美元因欧元缺少政治和财政凝聚力而获得更大支撑。而面上风头强劲的中国是靠着持有巨额美国债在赌美国的未来。金砖四国中产阶级的消费至上主义在创造一个更稳定的全球环境。

  美国通过革命性的新科技将整个世界放在了网络上,让世界变得更小。虽深陷伊拉克和阿富汗战争,但国家的国防预算仅占4.6%GDP,几乎为二战后最低点。即使如此低水平的军费开支也令随后的另9个军事强国开支总和相形见绌。

  在未来一段时期衡量美国实力和影响的更合适的方式是,将美国的财富和它对世界支配力结合起来考虑。爵士乐、好莱坞电影和专利产品等,都反应美国在各国的影响力。而现在中国学讲英语和喜欢篮球的人数几乎与美国相等;各国热播的每10部电视剧中就有7部来自美国。世界仍在一如既往地关注美国品牌,这就是为何半数以上的美跨国公司的销售收入来自海外的原因。

  世界一些地方越来越像美国的事实,明显地在一定程度上支持着当今人们生活在美国世纪时代的说法。美国虽在世界事务上常犯错,但据佩优全球态度调查(PewGlobal Attitudes Survey)去年对全球24国进行的一项调查结果显示,各地民众欢迎美国的态度远高于中俄两国。然而,美国仍对自身境况焦虑。这应是件好事,部份是因为这能打破自满。

  美国实力下滑最令人信服的原因是,整个社会的肆意挥霍和功能紊乱的社会治理结构。国家巨额负债的主要原因是缺少制约。例如,当经济几乎紧绷至极限时,富裕人群却还在索要在度假住宅的按揭贷款的减息好处。这里还未涉及社会福利或其它方面的总体改革。简言之,美国人忘却了如何应对艰难困苦,毫不考虑这意味自己是在像二战中的前辈那样面临的严峻挑战。

  过度紧张和不断谈论实力下降是美国最具竞争力的优势之一。它意味着对来要有更高标准和预期。美国还将对国家会怎样分裂感到焦虑。如此警惕才能让美国免予噩梦般的未来。因此,人们需要对国家命运感到焦虑,保持警觉。如同前人一样,这是确保本世纪仍是美国世纪的最好办法。

The Next American Century                                     ~ Andres Martinez

In 1941, prior to the U.S.'s entry into World War II, the co-founder of this magazine, Henry Luce, penned an essay in LIFE that exhorted "unhappy" Americans, "[distracted] with lifeless arguments about isolationism," to "create the first great American century" — the first, mind you, not the last. We are now entering the second decade of what will be an even more markedly American century; in fact, the Americanization of the world will characterize the foreseeable future far more than the past.

It's true that Brand America took a hit this decade. The global superpower botched an election at home and an occupation overseas. Its vaunted financial markets were roiled by sketchy accounting early in the decade, then triggered a global economic crisis later on, thanks to Wall Street's leveraged gamble that it had conquered risk once and for all. All these missteps dented the U.S.'s credibility but were also a reminder that, fairly or not, the U.S. retains an enviably large margin of error. And times of economic dislocation only accentuate America's competitive advantage — its nimbleness and adaptability.

With only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. produces a quarter of the world's economic output. Even as the global economic crisis led to the expansion of the G-7 (or G-8, depending on who's counting) into the G-20, none of the newcomers offer a compelling challenge to the American way. If anything, they want to make sure the U.S. abides by its own rules. The dollar's status as the world's reserve currency has only been bolstered as the Greek debt crisis unveils the perils of a monetary union that lacks political and fiscal coherence. China, ostensibly the next big thing, continues its long march toward Western notions of private property, while Beijing bets on America's future by stocking up on billions of dollars' worth of Treasury bills. The rise of a consumerist middle-class society in nations like China, Brazil and India creates a more stable world, not to mention new markets for American products and culture.

And yet doomsayers continue to decry America's decline. This isn't new. As far back as 1988, when Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers was a best seller, the commentariat latched onto his (more hedged than remembered) warning that America ran the risk of "imperial overstretch" — "the awkward and enduring fact that the sum total of the United States' global interests and obligations is nowadays far larger than the country's power to defend all simultaneously."

So, what happened next? Well, the Berlin Wall collapsed, much of the world embraced market capitalism, and the U.S. shrank the globe and took it online with a revolutionary new technology that strengthens its cultural dominance. Meanwhile, the cost of keeping the Pax Americana has become far lighter. Despite the nation's two long-running commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 288,000 American service members posted or deployed overseas and a defense budget of 4.6% of GDP are near post–World War II lows (in 1987 the corresponding figures were 524,000 service members overseas and a defense budget in excess of 6% of GDP). And this historically modest investment dwarfs the military spending of the next nine powers combined.

Still, we fret and we fret about our status. This is partly a good thing, because it beats complacency, but a bad thing when it begrudges the newfound wealth of others. The fact that millions of people in India and China are getting their first taste of prosperity shouldn't make Americans feel poorer.

There are two ways of measuring American power and influence at a given point. If you measure them merely in terms of how much richer the U.S. is than the rest of the world, then 1945, when much of the rest of the world lay in ruins, would definitely be our heyday. At the end of World War II, the U.S. was responsible for a third of the world's manufacturing exports. And under that yardstick, the Marshall Plan, aimed at rehabilitating Europe's lost prowess, would have been a mistake, as it was bound to eat into U.S. global market share.

But a more appropriate measure of American influence and power is the combination of the country's wealth and its sway in the world. Back in 1941, Luce noted that "American jazz, Hollywood movies, American slang, American machines and patented products are in fact the only things that every community in the world, from Zanzibar to Hamburg, recognizes in common." He had no idea: at a time when there are as many people studying English in China (or playing basketball, for that matter) as there are people in the U.S., seven of the 10 most watched TV shows around the world are American, Avatar is the top-grossing film of all time in China, and the world is as fixated on U.S. brands as ever, which is why U.S. multinationals from McDonald's to Nike book more than half their revenue overseas. If you bring together teenagers from Nigeria, Sweden, South Korea and Argentina — to pick a random foursome — what binds these kids together in some kind of community is American culture: the music, the Hollywood fare, the electronic games, Google, American consumer brands. The only thing they will likely have in common that doesn't revolve around the U.S. is an interest in soccer. The fact that the rest of the world is becoming more like us — in ways good and bad — underscores the extent to which we are living in an American century, even as it erodes, by definition, the notion of American exceptionalism.

For all its egregious missteps around the world, the U.S. remains an inclusive superpower. Other nations are thriving under the Pax Americana, and the rise of second-tier powers makes the continued projection of U.S. might more welcome in certain neighborhoods. South Korea, Japan and even Vietnam appreciate having the U.S. serve as a counterweight to China; Pakistan and India want to engage Washington to counterbalance each other. According to last year's Pew Global Attitudes Survey, half the 24 nations questioned held a more favorable view of the U.S. than they did of China or Russia. (The most glaring exceptions, where Brand America has obvious problems for obvious reasons, were in the Middle East.)

The most credible argument for American decline has to do with our society's profligacy and dysfunctional governance. The nation's mounting debts, however, result as much from a lack of discipline as from a lack of resources. In a time when the country is supposedly stretched to its limits, for instance, wealthier Americans can still claim a mortgage-interest deduction on a vacation home. We fret about our dependence on foreign oil but only very recently considered building more nuclear plants. And let's not even get into entitlement reform or the lack thereof. Americans, in short, have forgotten how to do the hard stuff, let alone what it means to truly mobilize to confront a serious challenge as they did to fight World War II.

The country needs to find a way out of this political paralysis not only to retain its global leadership but also to exercise it. If it can be bothered, the U.S. commands enormous untapped capacity and wealth. Regardless of how sclerotic Washington is these days, the U.S. is still likely to innovate the next big thing, whether that be revolutionary life-extending medical technologies or new fuel-excreting life-forms that scientists are rushing to perfect at places like UCLA and Arizona State University. In terms of how we communicate and how we access and use information, bet on the looming showdown between Google and Apple to define this decade. And bet on the U.S. to be the nation that gives birth to the next Google.

As anyone raised in a different country will tell you, two of the strongest impressions someone has on arriving in the U.S. are 1) what a great country this seems to be, and 2) what a mess it must be, judging by the tenor of news coverage and political discourse. In most places, those two are reversed. Overwrought, constant hand-wringing about the nation's decline is one of America's competitive advantages, reflecting high standards and expectations — what Reinhold Niebuhr described as the hubris of a nation's "dreams of managing history." Americans have little tolerance for accidents or other calamities: we investigate, postmortemize and litigate bad stuff until it is clear who is to blame and why it won't happen again. Then we go on fretting about how the nation is falling apart. And that vigilance seems to immunize the country against that dreaded fate.

So stay anxious, and alarmed, about the fate of the country. That's the best way to ensure that this century, like its predecessor, will be an American one.


  重新划分世界格局

  当今的政治疆界是阻止全球人类进步的最根本的障碍。无疆界的世界现在是可望不可及。但人们可行动起来构建如此世界。没有比消除认为武装冲突有道理和促进经济发展的贡献更大。未来10年内,确定一幅新世界版图不仅是有价值的目标,而且还有着道德、经济和战略上的紧迫性。

  正因为人们过分集中在疆界的神圣性,而忘却了疆界内的许多机构和实体是从内部崩溃的事实。一些国家或者实际上没有,或者甚至根本不值得与其邻国划出有意义的边境线。这类长期存在的两难境况本质上难以解决。

  那些寻求应对全球经济和开发不足危机的各国领袖们,应从世上最成功的欧盟各国疆界退至次要地位的例子上学到些东西。欧盟是世上最和平的多国结合区域,将27个国家,4.5亿人口和20万亿美元GDP融合为全球最大经济体。一度给各国政治地理带来伤痕的边境线,现在已成为连接欧盟各国人民间的桥梁。

  若人类能拿出为争夺和保卫疆界上所花费的10%来解决问题,未来10年,甚至数十年会比以往任何时候都更好。

Remapping the World                                          ~ Parag Khanna

Political borders remain among the most fundamental obstacles to human progress around the world. And yet while a borderless world could be a great thing, we can't assume it into being. We have to actually build it. Nothing would make a greater contribution toward removing justifications for armed conflict and toward economic development. In the next decade, drawing a new map of the world won't be just a worthy goal, it will become a moral, economic and strategic imperative.

The notion of a borderless world seems chimerical. Even in a globalized age, 90% of the world's people will never leave the country in which they were born. For them, borders still matter greatly — and even violently. From the Israeli-Palestinian "fence" to the U.S.-Mexican border, demarcating, monitoring and defending borders is still the big business of the military-industrial complex.

And yet, because we've been so focused on the inviolability of borders, we've neglected the fact that many of the very entities borders supposedly define were collapsing from within. Dozens of postcolonial states, from Congo to Pakistan, either don't really have or don't even deserve meaningful borders with their neighbors. And this has made long-standing dilemmas virtually intractable.

Take the Middle East. Decades of diplomatic bickering and White House Rose Garden ceremonies haven't delivered Mideast stability, but an understanding about infrastructure might. One obstacle to the realization of a Palestinian state is the fact that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not connected. Investing in an arc of roads and commuter-rail lines linking the West Bank and Gaza — in addition to building modern air and seaports — would help a Palestinian state eventually sustain itself. Independence without infrastructure is futile.

The Kurds know this, which is why they have been signing oil-exploration agreements with companies from Canada to Norway in preparation for the day the entity known as Iraq officially ceases to exist. If we replaced all the post-Ottoman political borders on our maps with lines representing the region's oil pipelines, we'd have a much more accurate picture of the vectors of influence and interdependence — and potential avenues for creating peace. Kurdistan would, after all, be landlocked; it has no choice but to get along with its neighbors if it wants to get the oil out.

Similarly, why do we lazily accept the continuing existence of Sudan, a British colonial construct joining Arab Muslims and African Christians in Africa's second largest country, a place so large that three disconnected civil wars — in Darfur, South Sudan and the east — are raging at the same time? A more stable and peaceful arrangement for Sudan would be to focus on independence for Darfur and South Sudan sooner rather than later, allowing them to rebuild themselves as smaller states at peace with their neighbors instead of facing Khartoum's persistent and nefarious undermining from within.

Beyond Sudan, Africa would benefit hugely from a reimagining of its current borders. Some innovative transborder ideas have emerged, such as sharing hydropower projects in the Great Lakes region or even establishing transboundary conservation parks, as South Africa is doing with its neighbors. Africa can become economically viable only if its plethora of puny economies merge from more than 50 into just a few.

Leaders seeking to respond to the global economic and underemployment crises should take a lesson from the world's most successful instance of a subordination of arbitrary borders: the European Union. The E.U. is the world's most peaceful multinational zone and its largest economic bloc, combining 27 countries, 450 million people and a $20 trillion GDP. The solution to the hundreds of lines that scar our political geography is to physically build the lines that connect people across them. If we spend just 10% of what we do on fighting over and defending borders on transcending them, the next decade — and the decades beyond — will be better than the last.

  信息传输通道是下一笔新财富

  已有人为大量使用各种信息传输而付出高昂代价。有加州男子因子女大量使用无线互联网服务而接到了VerizonWireless公司的2.2万美元的账单,而一对在地中海度假游轮上要求iPhone自动查询电子邮件服务的纽约夫妇也积攒下4800美元的服务费。

  此现象反映了美国人渴望更宽的信息传送频宽,以及解决它越来越显出供给不足的深层问题。美国家庭每月在有线电视、互联网、无线通信和固定电话上的开支会轻松突破数百美元,有家庭的开支已与在能源上的开支相同。更显见的事实是,美国人对智能电话和互联网电视的热爱,已达到他们热爱汽车和空调的相同程度。一旦频宽供给不足,人们必将面临新千年中的首个新的资源危机。

  当前出现的信息传送阻塞现象充其量只是其最严重程度的轻微表现。但这足以造成供货商索高价,牟取暴利。这与当今全球能源供应市场情形一样。

  借助私人业解决问题的可能性有多大尚需考察。提供传送频宽的具体运营商要增加频宽容量就必须大规模投资,而客户又会因不满意其服务而随时弃它而去。此外,业界还对频宽容量究竟应多大,以及行业能够为此承担多少开支而争论不休。光缆虽能在未来很长时间上解决此问题,但需付出更高成本。

  此外,高容量光纤所提供的大规模互联网频宽还创造了取消有线电视和固定电话服务的理由,客户能轻松地从互联网上得到自己所要的各种内容,让电视和电话业处境尴尬。

  当局认为频宽问题值得全美通盘考虑,正在制定鼓励提高家庭频宽的计划。然而,最严重的频宽不足是无线业务。此处需求持续增长,但供给脆弱。最糟的噩梦是无线网络拥堵成为像城市交通拥堵般的常态。美国人对传输频宽需求的胃口不会减弱,因此,必须有人尽早站出来为解决此两难困境拿出办法。

Bandwidth Is the New Black Gold                ~ Tim Wu

Everyone knows someone who has experienced the 21st century's quintessential gotcha moment: the unexpected, budget-breaking mobile-phone bill. Most aren't as bad as the $22,000 bill a California man received from Verizon Wireless for his teenager's Internet usage, or the New York family whose iPhones racked up nearly $4,800 by automatically checking for e-mails on a Mediterranean cruise.

But these incidents aren't just stories of human folly or corporate greed, they're subtle signs of a deeper issue: the increasing shortage of bandwidth relative to Americans' growing appetite for it. In the U.S. in 2010, a family can easily spend hundreds of dollars a month on cable, mobile phones and Internet and telephone services. Some families already spend at least as much on bandwidth as they do on energy. Face it: Americans love their smart phones and Internet television as much as they love their cars and air conditioners. When you have a scarce resource, an industry run as an oligopoly and a population that can't get enough, you have all the ingredients for the first new resource crisis of the millennium.

Technically, bandwidth is best defined as the capacity to move information through a channel. The more information you move through the channel, the more bandwidth you use; hence video uses much more bandwidth than, say, e-mail. A bandwidth shortage occurs at any point when the demand to move information exceeds the capacity of the channel. So when every iPhone user in New York City wants to watch a video or get online, AT&T's wireless channels get flooded, and no one can get through.

In time, the mere slowdowns we see today may be eclipsed by full-scale information traffic jams. But beyond that, the deeper problems will be with high prices and possible profiteering. As demand for bandwidth goes up, suppliers will logically be able to charge more, as happens in energy markets.

Can we rely on private industry — the cable and telephone companies — to build its way out of these problems? In a word, maybe. On the one hand, each individual bandwidth supplier — Comcast, AT&T and so on — faces possible customer defections if its services get too bad, and to their credit, those companies are now investing billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades. On the other hand, the industry collectively may be conflicted about how much capacity it really wants — and how much it wants to pay for. Since the 1970s, it has been obvious that installing fiber-optic cables, which use lasers to carry information, could solve most of the home-capacity problems for a very long time.

Yet with the exception of Verizon and its FiOS program, the U.S. bandwidth industry has been reluctant to go beyond its copper wires. For one thing, upgrading to fiber is really expensive. For another, offering users massive Internet bandwidth can create a good reason for them to cancel cable and telephone services, because they would be able to get much of what they want from the Internet.

Under the Obama Administration, the FCC regards bandwidth supply as an issue meriting national attention, and it has been formulating a plan to encourage home bandwidth. But there's reason to think that the most serious problems — the real bandwidth shortages — will be in wireless, where demand is growing and supply is weak. The industry cannot keep up with wireless demand, and we're already seeing more dropped calls and slow connections as well as those enormous bills for data plans. In a nightmare scenario, jams become the norm instead of the exception, just as they are for our cars. Wireless carriers could use the scarcity to profit, setting aside net neutrality and charging obscene rates for priority calls and guaranteed bandwidth.

The bottom line is that if everyone keeps using the Internet and other services as much as they like, something will have to give. It is unlikely that the American appetite for bandwidth will diminish anytime soon, nor is it even clear that we want it to. But if we want the pleasure and convenience of a high-bandwidth society, someone will need to figure out a solution to the bandwidth dilemma soon.

  辍学者的经济

  中产阶级子女常在早期就被教导要努力学习,完成学业。但美国2006年确出现30%的辍学率,不足三分之一的年轻人能完成高等教育。许多经济学者将此归咎于薪酬增长缓慢,导致教育停滞。

  在新兴的后信息经济(post-informationeconomy)时期,有很多人或多或少都感到自己被淘汰。而在此阶段,海外劳动力或是机器能廉价地取代普通的专业技能和一些高端服务。这不意味着原有工作消失,而意味着它们是以新的,让人们感到陌生的形式存在。

  当高中和高等教育为并不存在的就业岗位培训下一代人时,社会必定处于辍学革命的顶峰期,由此出现一个以新方式尝试学习和生存的实验性时代。

  人们可以想象得到,辍学者在不能进入已有的社会机构就职时会采取的生存方式。他们会被迫共同过着古老的,几乎没有税收的集体农庄方式生活,在购建乌托邦社会的同时,也在被动地抵御政府权威。

  他们甚至也会走向放弃社会化教育体系,自己按需施教子女。全美2007年就约有150万儿童在家中接受教育,预计随着远程教育在教授和成本上优于传统方式,未来此数字还会继续猛增。

  远离当今脆弱和病态的,譬如传统的学校和就业组织机构形式的决心,会让他们转向一种渴望自给自足和独立,并富有弹性的社会形式。这类人群所反映出的个人主义会以玩世不恭,不信任当今存在事物的精神开始,他们怀有对当今社会根本不能解决任何紧迫问题的深切感受。这将转为一种变换自己生活方式的新的信心,由此也能够改变自己周围的世界。

  希望年轻人在经济回升后最终能进入就业行列,相信大多数人会走此路。而未能进入者将活跃在自己生活的小区,利用媒体创建能维持自己精心打造的,不参与竞争的另类生活方式的各种关系。长年的失业者会图谋从文化上颠覆传统价值,这种与现有的种族结构变化、文化和经济趋势产生共鸣的行为会很有威力,甚至会使社会脱离原有主流价值体系。

The Dropout Economy                       ~ Reihan Salam

Middle-class kids are taught from an early age that they should work hard and finish school. Yet 3 out of 10 students dropped out of high school as recently as 2006, and less than a third of young people have finished college. Many economists attribute the sluggish wage growth in the U.S. to educational stagnation, which is one reason politicians of every stripe call for doubling or tripling the number of college graduates.

But what if the millions of so-called dropouts are onto something? As conventional high schools and colleges prepare the next generation for jobs that won't exist, we're on the cusp of a dropout revolution, one that will spark an era of experimentation in new ways to learn and new ways to live.

It's important to keep in mind that behavior that seems irrational from a middle-class perspective is perfectly rational in the face of straitened circumstances. People who feel obsolete in today's information economy will be joined by millions more in the emerging post-information economy, in which routine professional work and even some high-end services will be more cheaply performed overseas or by machines. This doesn't mean that work will vanish. It does mean, however, that it will take a new and unfamiliar form.

Look at the projections of fiscal doom emanating from the federal government, and consider the possibility that things could prove both worse and better. Worse because the jobless recovery we all expect could be severe enough to starve the New Deal social programs on which we base our life plans. Better because the millennial generation could prove to be more resilient and creative than its predecessors, abandoning old, familiar and broken institutions in favor of new, strange and flourishing ones.

Imagine a future in which millions of families live off the grid, powering their homes and vehicles with dirt-cheap portable fuel cells. As industrial agriculture sputters under the strain of the spiraling costs of water, gasoline and fertilizer, networks of farmers using sophisticated techniques that combine cutting-edge green technologies with ancient Mayan know-how build an alternative food-distribution system. Faced with the burden of financing the decades-long retirement of aging boomers, many of the young embrace a new underground economy, a largely untaxed archipelago of communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim that passively resist the power of the granny state while building their own little utopias.

Rather than warehouse their children in factory schools invented to instill obedience in the future mill workers of America, bourgeois rebels will educate their kids in virtual schools tailored to different learning styles. Whereas only 1.5 million children were homeschooled in 2007, we can expect the number to explode in future years as distance education blows past the traditional variety in cost and quality. The cultural battle lines of our time, with red America pitted against blue, will be scrambled as Buddhist vegan militia members and evangelical anarchist squatters trade tips on how to build self-sufficient vertical farms from scrap-heap materials. To avoid the tax man, dozens if not hundreds of strongly encrypted digital currencies and barter schemes will crop up, leaving an underresourced IRS to play whack-a-mole with savvy libertarian "hacktivists."

Work and life will be remixed, as old-style jobs, with long commutes and long hours spent staring at blinking computer screens, vanish thanks to ever increasing productivity levels. New jobs that we can scarcely imagine will take their place, only they'll tend to be home-based, thus restoring life to bedroom suburbs that today are ghost towns from 9 to 5. Private homes will increasingly give way to cohousing communities, in which singles and nuclear families will build makeshift kinship networks in shared kitchens and common areas and on neighborhood-watch duty. Gated communities will grow larger and more elaborate, effectively seceding from their municipalities and pursuing their own visions of the good life. Whether this future sounds like a nightmare or a dream come true, it's coming.

This transformation will be not so much political as antipolitical. The decision to turn away from broken and brittle institutions, like conventional schools and conventional jobs, will represent a turn toward what military theorist John Robb calls "resilient communities," which aspire to self-sufficiency and independence. The left will return to its roots as the champion of mutual aid, cooperative living and what you might call "broadband socialism," in which local governments take on the task of building high-tech infrastructure owned by the entire community. Assuming today's libertarian revival endures, it's easy to imagine the right defending the prerogatives of state and local governments and also of private citizens — including the weird ones. This new individualism on the left and the right will begin in the spirit of cynicism and distrust that we see now, the sense that we as a society are incapable of solving pressing problems. It will evolve into a new confidence that citizens working in common can change their lives and in doing so can change the world around them.

We see this individualism in the rise of "freeganism" and in the small but growing handful of "cage-free families" who've abandoned their suburban idylls for life on the open road. We also see it in the rising number of high school seniors who take a gap year before college. While the higher-education industry continues to agitate for college for all, many young adults are stubbornly resistant, perhaps because they recognize that for a lot of them, college is an overpriced status marker and little else. In the wake of the downturn, household formation has slowed down. More than one-third of workers under 35 live with their parents.

The hope is that these young people will eventually leave the house when the economy perks up, and doubtless many will. Others, however, will choose to root themselves in their neighborhoods and use social media to create relationships that sustain them as they craft alternatives to the rat race. Somewhere in the suburbs there is an unemployed 23-year-old who is plotting a cultural insurrection, one that will resonate with existing demographic, cultural and economic trends so powerfully that it will knock American society off its axis.

  中美关系:不可互缺的轴心

  当今寻求保障中东石油安全和解决阿、伊战争耗费着政府大量外交精力。但美国未来10年精力必将转向中国这个新的中东

  中国已有世上最大加工业、汽车市场、水泥生产能力,以及是最大污染源,经济学者早就预测到此以上转向。中国的军事力量和海军能力同时在增强。其以建设为主的对自然资源,特别是木材和能源的渴望正重塑非洲、东南亚和南美的政治版图。经济诺奬得主福格尔(RobertFogel)预测中国经济2040年将占全球规模的40%

  因此有人将中国崛起视为是对美国的威胁。有学者在书中设想,中国崛起会推翻西方珍视的一些启蒙原则。而另一些人则沿用冷战思维,将其视为苏联的替代物。

  然而,两国关系絶不会走到以往那步。两国会形成一种维持全球稳定的不可互缺的轴心(indispensableaxis)关系。这不意味两国会成为像以往英美那样好朋友式的关系。两国间未来会发展成一种前所未有的,在重塑和支持能让两国都受益的全球新体系时,相互竞争与合作关系。这是一种多变的,在某些问题上密切合作,而在对方独自行动时掣肘的双边关系。

  这种关系絶非像对等婚姻。美国仍具有全球无可挑战的支配力。同时,中国至今未对支持和承担支撑着世界经济的全球共识(globalcommons)表现出热情。中国目前更愿意以搭便车者(a free rider)身份进入一个需要帮助保卫贸易路线、海洋通道和维护一些地区稳定的全球体系,它更注重自身的挑战。中国似乎至今未做好,或者愿意充当世界领袖的准备。

  因此,人们不要指望像二战期间的两大国便能决定世界命运的情形再现。中国会一如既往,在不令美国不安的方式下扩张实力和追求自己的利益。然而,美国也不会寻求遏制中国的崛起,它实际上也难以做到。美国面临的真正挑战是,构建起鼓励中国支持其能获益的全球共识的双边关系。它要求美国领导者能头脑清晰地掌控这种复杂关系,而无需倾向于放纵或是妖魔化世上另一新的超级大国。

China and the U.S.: The Indispensable Axis          ~ Christina Larson

The quest to secure Middle Eastern oil and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan consume much of the foreign policy establishment in Washington today. But in the next decade, more of the U.S.'s attention will shift to the new Middle East: China.

Economists have been predicting this shift for decades. China is already the world's top manufacturer, top auto market, top cement producer and top polluter. Its military and naval capacity is growing. Its construction-driven hunger for natural resources, especially timber and energy, is reshaping the landscapes of Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. Experts may argue about the pace of China's economic ascent — Nobel laureate economist Robert Fogel predicts that China's economy will be an eye-popping 40% of global GDP by 2040, while others project somewhat more modest growth — but few question that it's happening dazzlingly fast.

Some see a threat to our way of life in China's rise. Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World, imagines the rise of China toppling the cherished Enlightenment principles of the West. Others persist in using faulty cold war analogies, substituting China for the old U.S.S.R.

Rather than being cold war adversaries, however, the U.S. and China will form an indispensable axis for global governance. That doesn't mean the two will be best friends — don't expect a new special relationship similar to the U.S.-British alliance of the 20th century. There is no precedent for this unique evolving relationship, one in which the two sides will both compete and cooperate, perhaps simultaneously, as they shape and support a global system they can benefit from. In some ways, this axis might resemble the fluidity of the G-8, the group of industrialized countries that cooperate on economic issues where they share interests but go their separate ways on issues where they don't. Washington and Beijing will increasingly be the 800-lb. gorillas in multilateral architectures like the G-20 or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation while developing a shifting bilateral relationship, working together closely on some issues and hampering each other's unilateral actions on others.

But this is not a marriage of equals. The U.S. remains the unchallenged predominant global power. Certainly, China is becoming more influential economically, and its military is increasing its capacity. But it has little ability to project force beyond its borders, and Beijing has shown little interest in supporting or paying for the global commons that underpins the world economy. For now, China prefers to be largely a free rider on the international system that helps safeguard trade routes, sea lanes and relative regional stability — allowing Beijing to focus on pressing domestic challenges. At the Copenhagen climate conference in December, China had a chance to assume a greater leadership role, but Premier Wen Jiabao at crucial moments preferred not to meet directly with President Obama. Beijing appears not yet ready or willing to be a world leader.

So don't expect smoke-filled summits on par with Yalta in which the leaders of two superpowers decide the world's fate. Instead, we can expect a much more ad hoc, varied and fluid relationship managed within multiple forums, both domestic and international. China will continue to flex its muscles and pursue its interests — including seeking oil, timber and mineral resources in far-flung corners of the globe as it strives to maintain high growth — in ways that will at times unsettle Americans. Yet the U.S. is not seeking to contain China's rise, nor can it feasibly do so. The real challenge for Washington will be structuring a relationship that encourages China to support the global commons that it benefits from. That will require our leaders to manage the complex partnership in a clear-eyed manner and not be consumed by the temptation to either coddle or demonize the world's next superpower.


  为失败辩解

  美国当前10年内最要优先考虑的是保留自己文化传统中珍视的失败自由(freedomto fail)。它虽可能不及罗斯福总统定义的四项自由那样著名,但它一直是美国例外论(exceptionalism)的支柱之一,因此也可被称为第五项自由。

  美国人有着容忍失败的肚量。约有三分之二到四分之三的美国人表示自己一直在考虑开创自己的事业。相比欧洲,仅40%以下的人会如此考虑。现实经济活动已证明了这一点。继2008年金融危机后出现的衰退,让众多美国人不再感到自己例外。此时的失败自由可能比抱残守缺的自由更有意义。

  实现目标不应排除失败,社会应建立起一套足以承受失败的弹性体系。例如,美国当前的企业破产体系的大度,有着能带动高创业率的因素。类似地,罗斯福新政时期创设的联邦存款保险公司(FederalDeposit Insurance Corporation)体系终止了能毁灭许多健康经营银行的挤兑行为。此做法虽代价很高,但挤兑风潮更可怕。尚无这类体系的英国在近期危机中遭遇严重的挤兑潮。

  泡沫和金融危机就是市场经济中的自然属性,当数百万人遭受损失时,事实是,随着臃肿消去美国能再次轻装上阵。以往金融体系的崩溃,让人们对以前的失败进行认真总结。

  现在不是要发动一场对失败进行狂想家式的讨伐,而是利用已学到的经验构建起一套失败值得的体系:即金融机构需提高准备金率以抵御危机;修改用于仿真系统风险的手段;创建注销破产机构业务而又不给市场带来巨大冲击的更好机制;以及为在危机中遭受重创的人群提供更好服务。

  美国成功的真正秘密是从失败中学习,而不是对此斤斤计较。不幸的是,美国非常危险地接近了忘掉自己历史中的最重要的经验:如何失败的有价值,以及如何能以同样漂亮的转身而再次崛起。

In Defense of Failure                  ~ Megan McArdle

It sounds like a dubious aspiration, but one of the more pressing priorities for America this decade is to preserve our cherished freedom to fail in this country. This freedom to fail may not have made it into President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous declaration of the four freedoms that define America — it would have been bad karma on the eve of World War II — but it has long been one of the pillars of this country's exceptionalism. Call it the fifth freedom.

America allows its citizens room to fail — and if they don't succeed, to try, try again. Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of all Americans report that they have considered starting their own business, whereas in Europe that number is only 40%. While the E.U. publishes documents on "overcoming the stigma of business failure," executives in Silicon Valley proudly make their bygone start-ups the centerpieces of their résumés. And when those start-ups shut down, America stands ready with corporate and personal bankruptcy systems that are the most generous in the world.

But after the financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that has followed it, many Americans are no longer feeling so exceptional. At this point, freedom to fail probably ranks right around freedom to remove your own appendix.

That's a pity, because failure is one of the most economically important tools we have. The goal shouldn't be to eliminate failure; it should be to build a system resilient enough to withstand it. Our bankruptcy system's generosity, for instance, has been convincingly linked to higher rates of entrepreneurship. Similarly, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation system created during the New Deal has largely put an end to the bank runs that destroyed many sound banks; all it took was simply promising depositors that they can't lose all their money. This is costly, of course. But the bank runs were worse. It's telling that countries with less generous deposit insurance, like Britain, suffered bank runs during the recent crisis and were forced to raise their insurance limits or nationalize banks.

Yet instead of celebrating all our successes in building systems that fail well, we've become wedded to the fantasy of a system that doesn't fail at all. Look at our underwhelming response to the financial crisis. Bubbles and financial crises are natural features of markets, and while there has been some real suffering on the part of millions, the truth is that as these things go, we've gotten off lightly. When financial systems fail badly, you get the Great Depression: 25% unemployment, GDP falling by about a third, life savings wiped out, livelihoods lost. Largely because we studied the failures of that era, our financial policymakers learned that a whole bunch of things didn't work — and avoided a repeat.

We should be searching for the lessons of this crisis, but we can't because we're too busy searching for bad guys. Watch a hearing held before the House Financial Services committee, and you don't see legislators absorbing sound policy advice; you see them mouthing talking points and beating up on bankers. There isn't really much evidence that the "unsafe" financial products vilified by some proponents of financial reform played a large role in the meltdown. While exotic loans certainly helped make the bubble larger, there's no reason to believe that we could have avoided it entirely. But the architects of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency have made it very clear that they think they can tamp down bubbles by nudging people toward "plain vanilla" products. Many financial innovations eventually turn out to be bad ideas. But as with Edison's lightbulb filaments, the failures point the way to our successes.

And so rather than launch a quixotic war on failure, we should be using what we've learned to build a system that fails better: increasing the reserves financial institutions hold against a crisis, improving our tools for modeling system-wide risks, creating better mechanisms for winding down the operations of failed institutions without triggering a market panic, and making better provisions for the people who are hardest hit.

The real secret of our success is that we learn from the past, and then we forget it. Unfortunately, we're dangerously close to forgetting the most important lessons of our own history: how to fail gracefully and how to get back on our feet with equal grace.


  白人族群的焦虑

  在美国种族和人口结构变化的讨论上有两类针锋相对的说法,其一是墨西哥人会搅乱美国社会结构;其二是年轻一代的种族多元化将使国家进入更具完整的后种族时代。但此说法根本未触及问题的实质。未来美国种族关系出现的最深层的变化将是,本土出生的白种美国人所面临的尴尬境况。

  白人至上在大部份的美国史中是这片土地的铁律。在从1790-1952年的每部归化法中,国会都陈述有抱负的国民应是"白人('whiteperson')"这样词句。前50年社会虽取得极大进步,但令人并不感到吃惊的是,白人所有权的感受(sense of whiteproprietorship),即"这是我们的国家和我们的文化('this is our country and ourculture')"之类的表述仍未被完全清除。即使当前已有一位非洲裔美国人的总统,人们仍倾向于视少数民族为附属,而白人代表整个国家。

  根据联邦人口普查局(CensusBureau)预测,白人到2050年时会成为少数族群。当前占多数的人群对自己正变为少数民族地位如何反应,是美国未来10年面临的最重要的社会人口文化问题。

  最明显的影响是在政治上。如果加州的盎格鲁撒克逊种族已降至州总人口50%以下的人口比例变化还能成为一个例子的话,其它各处白人可能会逐渐形成更强烈的团体政治利益意识。该州絶大多数白人选民1996年举行了强烈支持取消政府发起的,传统上旨在保护黑人的"支持行为('AffirmativeAction')"的表决倡议,209号提议(Proposition 209),因为它在现实社会中对白人越来越不利。同期,该州还通过另外两项与种族有关的投票倡议,反对非法移民和双语教学。

  目前很难对以上倡议马上做出,白人是在反对该州种族比例变化的结论。这种因种族比例变化引发以上倡议的趋势到目前为止尚未出现任何激进提议。

  过去10年间对逆向种族歧视起诉的案子越来越多,如康涅狄格州纽黑文市的白人消防队员称因自己的种族而无法获提升。人们在未来10年可能会看到更多反歧视诉讼案件,对逆向种族歧视的愤怒会增强。不仅传统的"支持行为('AffirmativeAction')"会遇到更大阻力,而且还会出现要求将白人列入支持行为和政府特定的保护项目中。随着种族结构不断变化,还会出现专门保卫欧洲裔美国人利益和权利的新团体。两大主要政党的候选人会越来越注重白人遭遇不平和委屈的现象。

  这意味着种族问题仍是未来政治的特征。但种族间互动会与前一代人的情况截然不同。当时非白人阶层活动分子是美国的一种主要离心力量。随着奥巴马当选总统,黑人投票结果表明他们比多年前更乐观。在更多地抛弃了自己的反文化立场后,拉美种族活动分子现在并不反对美国强权,反而要求移民也成为它的一部份。同时,在他们成为大多数,并比其它种族更愿共同主张财富和政治影响力时,白人反而变得更像在抱不平的少数族群。

The White Anxiety Crisis                ~ Gregory Rodriguez

Two competing narratives dominate our debate about the ongoing ethnic and demographic transformation of America. The first holds that non-European immigrants — O.K., let's be honest, Mexicans — will rip apart the nation's social fabric. The second has it that the diversity of younger generations of Americans will inevitably lead to a more integrated, postracial era.

But both of these narratives are off the mark. With some minor differences, today's immigrants are assimilating into U.S. society in ways not terribly unlike those of millions before them. At the same time, it's likely that decades from now, Americans will still invest a lot of meaning in group distinctions.

The most profound changes in American race relations, however, will revolve around the other side of the equation: native-born white Americans. As much as Americans pride themselves on the notion that their national identity is premised on a set of ideals rather than a single race, ethnicity or religion, we all know that for most of our history, white supremacy was the law of the land. In every naturalization act from 1790 to 1952, Congress included language stating that the aspiring citizen should be a "white person." And not surprisingly, despite the extraordinary progress of the past 50 years, the sense of white proprietorship — "this is our country and our culture" — still has not been completely eradicated. Even though we now have an African-American President, we still tend to treat minorities as parts and whites as representatives of the whole. This, along with the luxury of rarely feeling obliged to think self-consciously about one's racial background, has been one of the perks of belonging to the demographic majority.

But according to the Census Bureau, by 2050 whites will be a minority group in the U.S. How the current majority reacts to its incipient minority status is the most crucial sociodemographic issue facing the country in the decade to come.

The most obvious impact will be political. If California's demographic transformation is any indication — Anglos dropped below 50% of the population there in 2000 — whites elsewhere may increasingly develop a stronger consciousness of their political interests as a group. In 1996, California's white voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition 209, a ballot initiative that sought to eliminate state-sponsored affirmative action, because many of those voters felt that the playing field had begun to tilt against them. That decade, California also passed two other ethnically charged ballot measures, against illegal immigration and bilingual education. It's difficult not to conclude that these initiatives were part of a white backlash against the state's ethnic transformation. However, the very demographic trend that inspired those ballot initiatives has ensured that there haven't been any racially charged propositions since. With so-called minorities outnumbering whites, mainstream politicians have been reluctant to endorse any initiative that would invite a backlash from nonwhites. 



  电视拯救世界

  电视仍是时下各类信息传输方式中最有影响力的媒介。只有当世上最贫穷地区也普及了电视才能称其无处不在。电视革命为人们带来更好的生活。

  电视对妇女的生活最具革命性的影响。印度学者发现,在有线电视接入村镇后,妇女们便可能在无丈夫许可下自己前往集市。她们对生男生女也不计较。她们不可能承认丈夫有打老婆的权力。电视同时还是当地成年人教育的有力媒介。在印度的文盲严重地区,常观看节目的文盲经半年后已在阅读上取得进步。

  电视虽与暴力、肥胖和社会隔絶有关,但它对全球数十亿人口还是有着更大的正面影响。随着移动电视技术和视频设备使用增加,让收视和节目内容更大众化,电视会成为羞辱残暴政府和丈夫这类丑陋东西的更强大的力量。

TV Will Save the World                                  ~ Charles Kenny

Forget Twitter and Facebook, Google and the Kindle. Forget the latest sleek iGadget. Television is still the most influential medium around. Indeed, for many of the poorest regions of the world, it remains the next big thing — poised, finally, to attain truly global ubiquity. And that is a good thing, because the TV revolution is changing lives for the better.

Across the developing world, around 45% of households had a TV in 1995; by 2005 the number had climbed above 60%. That's some way behind the U.S., where there are more TVs than people, but it dwarfs worldwide Internet access. Five million more households in sub-Saharan Africa will get a TV over the next five years. In 2005, after the fall of the Taliban, which had outlawed TV, 1 in 5 Afghans had one. The global total is another 150 million by 2013 — pushing the numbers to well beyond two-thirds of households.

Television's most transformative impact will be on the lives of women. In India, researchers Robert Jensen and Emily Oster found that when cable TV reached villages, women were more likely to go to the market without their husbands' permission and less likely to want a boy rather than a girl. They were more likely to make decisions over child health care and less likely to think that men had the right to beat their wives. TV is also a powerful medium for adult education. In the Indian state of Gujarat, Chitrageet is a hugely popular show that plays Bollywood song and dance clips. The routines are subtitled in Gujarati. Within six months, viewers had made a small but significant improvement in their reading skills.

Too much TV has been associated with violence, obesity and social isolation. But TV is having a positive impact on the lives of billions worldwide, and as the spread of mobile TV, video cameras and YouTube democratize both access and content, it will become an even greater force for humbling tyrannical governments and tyrannical husbands alike.

  衰落的精英群体

  在美国社会中,无论是天主教堂、棒球联盟、国会或是华尔街等主要机构在过去10年内几乎都显现败落或缺乏竞争力,或两者兼而有之。究其根源在于管理这些机构的上层人群的失败。他们造成的丑闻和灾难性事件让隐含的社会契约变为废墟,换来了人们的怀疑、轻蔑和觉醒。

  如此严重问题让人们不得不在新的10年内进行机构改革,重新构建更可靠和更民主的权威形式。学术性的研究成果表明,由负责任的精英构成的强劲机构和高度功能化的经济之间,以及形成恶性循环的不信任和败落间存在着稳定的相关性。

  民调机构盖洛普(Gallup)35年来一直在美国公众中调查他们对国会、银行、大型工商企业和公立学校的信任程度。2008年的调查结果显示,几乎每个被调查的机构的信任度都降至史上最低。仅32%的民众还信任银行,远低于2004年的50%。对新闻媒体的信任比例也从上个10年初的略低于40%跌至24%。而国会是被民众认为可信度最低的机构,仅12%的美国人表示还对其有信心。

  对精英们的失信也殃及精英自身。极具影响力的公关公司,爱德曼通过每年对受过优良高等教育,高收入和高度关注媒体人士进行调查后,对22个国家制定一份"信任指示计('trustbarometer')"。其调查结果表明,被访的精英们对政府和工商业机构的信任程度降至极低。出现这样局面是从安然公司(Enron)开始,到花旗银行出问题时达到顶峰。像美联储这样由最优秀经济学者和美国最聪明大脑组成的机构,也未能察觉8万亿美元的住房贷款泡沫和预测到次级贷款市场的崩溃。

  如果说过去10年中精英们的失败同时还有着令人振奋的事情发生的话,那就是政治领域出现了活跃的普通民众,以及大多数在互联网帮助下出现的机构创新形式。如Wikipedia百科将自身构成的过程以完全民主化方式编纂,彻底颠覆启蒙领域百科全书的内在逻辑。

  这只是人们所希望的开始。他们会依照对传统机构和大型寡头层级性质进行民主化改造,并向底层和外部转移权力的设想来创建未来新机构。这正是人们对未来10年的最大期盼。因此市民们有责任来拯救失败的精英。

The Twilight of the Elites                    ~ Christopher Hayes

In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society — whether it's General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media — has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent or both. And at the root of these failures are the people who run these institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order. In exchange for their power, status and remuneration, they are supposed to make sure everything operates smoothly. But after a cascade of scandals and catastrophes, that implicit social contract lies in ruins, replaced by mass skepticism, contempt and disillusionment.

In the wake of the implosion of nearly all sources of American authority, this new decade will have to be about reforming our institutions to reconstitute a more reliable and democratic form of authority. Scholarly research shows a firm correlation between strong institutions, accountable élites and highly functional economies; mistrust and corruption, meanwhile, feed each other in a vicious circle. If our current crisis continues, we risk a long, ugly process of de-development: higher levels of corruption and tax evasion and an increasingly fractured public sphere, in which both public consensus and reform become all but impossible.

For more than 35 years, Gallup has polled Americans about levels of trust in their institutions — Congress, banks, Big Business, public schools, etc. In 2008 nearly every single institution was at an all-time low. Banks were trusted by just 32% of the populace, down from more than 50% in 2004. Newspapers were down to 24%, from slightly below 40% at the start of the decade. And Congress was the least trusted institution of all, with only 12% of Americans expressing confidence in it. The mistrust of élites extends to élites themselves. Every year, public-relations guru Richard Edelman conducts a "trust barometer" across 22 countries, in which he surveys only highly educated, high-earning, media-attentive people. In the U.S., these people show extremely low levels of trust in government and business alike. Particularly distrusted are the superman CEOs of yore. "Chief-executive trust has just been mired in the mid- to low 20s," says Edelman. "It started off with Enron and culminates in Citi."

Such figures show that the crisis of authority extends beyond narrow ideological categories: Big Business and unions, Congress and Wall Street, organized religion and science are all viewed with skepticism. So why is it that so much of the country's leadership in so many different walks of life performed so terribly over this decade? While no single-cause theory can explain such a wide array of institutional failures, there are some themes — in particular, the concentration of power and the erosion of transparency and accountability — that extend throughout.

  令人乏味的未来

  人们愿意相信是生活在前所未有的变化时代,科技创新正以人类史上从未有过的速度向前发展。信息革命和全球化引发剧烈躁动。然而,今天人类事实上仍是生活在一个停滞时代。

  信息时代发明的各种小玩意与发明电力照明、冰箱、电器和天然气炉带来的影响一样,当今的科技进步未给生活和工业带来变革性的效果。电话、电视荧屏和键盘实际上与早期电话机、电视或打字机相比并无革命性的差别。

  真实情况是,革命性的科技创新少之又少,即使出现,在改变经济和生活上早已滞后很长时间。蒸汽机在成功用于加工和运输业之前,早已用在了英国矿井抽水上。汽车的情况类似。即使纳米或生物科技明天就有突破性进展,但人类数十年或是几代人内都可能无法获益。

  能源和运输业科技的停滞非常明显。交通工具与其动力是数十年甚至上百年前的发明。当前各地成本效率比最高的大众交通工具仍是汽车和飞机。无论热源是煤炭、天然气或是核能,今日大多数电力还是依靠1880年出现的汽轮机技术的变型。

  纵然有许多智者早就对未来做过各类预测,但该文作者坚信,即使到2050年,世界上国家和内部的划界仍是政治组织的占优势的形式。大量能源仍来自石油,核能在全球发电中的比重会逐步增加,而风和太阳能仍无足轻重。多数人出行会选择轿车、公共汽车、出租车和飞机,而非固定轨道交通。因生物科技进步,人生存的时间会更长、更健康,因此那时占就业比重最高的职业就是护理。

The Boring Age                           ~ Michael Lind

Viewing Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in the year 2010 is a depressing experience. According to this 1968 movie, by now we were supposed to have moon colonies and regular passenger service on space planes. And anyone who struggles with automated receptionist messages or programmable televisions knows that today's computers are just as psychotic as HAL 9000, only dumber.

We like to believe we live in an era of unprecedented change: technological innovation is proceeding at a rate with no parallel in all of human history. The information revolution and globalization are radically disruptive. Just as Barack Obama would like to be a transformational President, so the rest of us like the idea that we live in a thrilling epoch of transformation. But the truth is that we are living in a period of stagnation.

Surprisingly, this stasis is most evident in an area where we assume we are way ahead of our predecessors: technology. In fact, the gadgets of the information age have had nothing like the transformative effects on life and industry that indoor electric lighting, refrigerators, electric and natural gas ovens and indoor plumbing produced in the early to mid-20th century. Is the combination of a phone, video screen and keyboard really as revolutionary as the original telephone, the original television set or the original typewriter was?

Genuinely revolutionary technological innovations are rare, and when they appear, there is a long time lag before they begin to transform the economy and daily life. The steam engine was used for nearly a century to pump water from British mines before it was successfully applied to manufacturing and transportation. The gasoline-powered car was invented in the 1880s, but mass automobile use had to wait until the 1920s in the U.S. and the 1950s and '60s in Europe and Japan. There was a similar delay between the invention of the computer and the microprocessor and the widespread adoption of the PC in the 1990s and 2000s. Even if there are dramatic breakthroughs in nanotech or biotech tomorrow, we may not enjoy the benefits for decades, or generations.

Technology has been remarkably stagnant in the areas of transportation and energy. As energy expert Vaclav Smil has pointed out, global jet transportation relies on the gas turbine, which was developed in the 1930s, and global shipping uses the diesel engine, invented in the 1890s. The fastest commercial airliners ever to fly reside in museums. The most cost-effective forms of mass transit everywhere, except for a few dense urban areas, are buses and planes.

Whether the heat source is coal, natural gas or nuclear energy, most electricity today is generated by a variant of the steam turbine that has been around since the 1880s. The wind turbine and the solar-thermal and photovoltaic technologies beloved by greens are old enough to qualify for Social Security. And these elderly technologies are limited to those privileged enough to live in industrialized countries. A substantial minority of the human race still derives heat and warmth from wood and dung.

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