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Originally published January 2, 2013 at 7:23 PM | Page modified January 3, 2013 at 5:54 AM

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The future is no time to kid around

The U.S. must adapt now or lose out in rapidly changing world, in which it will no longer be the world's dominant player, but rather one of a number of influential countries.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Many conversations I had with friends about the new year brought to mind longer-term transitions.

There are changes on the horizon that call for more than resolutions. Changes that will require agility and adaptability on a national level.

The conversations I had with friends were mostly about how our kids are doing, and what kind of world they need to prepare for. Afterward, I thought about a recent report from the National Intelligence Council that imagined what the world might be like in 2030.

The report foresaw big trends, like a more middle-class and urban world population, and the end of the superpower era, which means the United States won't be the world's dominant player, but rather one of a number of influential countries.

The council prepares a report on global trends every four years so that presidents will head into their inaugurations with an idea of what's ahead to help them shape their policies.

The world has the potential to improve in a number of ways.

According to the report, the majority of the world's population won't be impoverished. Deaths from communicable diseases are expected to drop by 40 percent and life expectancy around the globe will increase.

Those changes could mean increased opportunities for trade, and perhaps more stability. We'll want to be in a position to benefit from that.

And we need to be able to deal with potential challenges. There will be increased competition for resources. Asia is expected to surpass North America and Europe in economic power, but Asia could become unstable without some way to settle disputes among equals. Climate change and population growth add layers of complexity.

The Middle East will remain a risky area that could cause problems for the rest of the world.

The report expects the U.S. to remain influential, unless we fail to get our economy in order.

The analysts list many problems that could turn the good news sour, but the idea of the report is that knowing what the trends are, and what might go wrong, we will make better choices.

We can't just blunder through, because more and more the United States will influence the rest of the world, not so much through wealth or power, but by our ability to communicate and to negotiate.

It seems like most of the time when Americans worry about how the U.S. is doing compared with other countries, the primary subject is how much we lag in math and the sciences. We do need to be concerned about that, but we'll also need people who can converse in other languages and people who would make good diplomats.

Our own internal inequalities contribute to the problems we have competing internationally. We can't continue to ration access to a high-quality education and expect to fare well in a more closely competitive world.

We're going to need all the brilliant young people we can produce. I just hope today's leaders will be savvy enough to make it a priority to put as many young people as possible in a position to help the country thrive when it is their turn to engage the world.

And I hope we can hang on until they're ready to lead.

Jerry Large's column appears

Monday and Thursday.

Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

Twitter: @jerrylarge.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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