From Dreaming Big to Thinking Small

I recently read a short article about how people used to think really big in this country and now think small and it struck me how true this was.  We started with a great dream expressed in the Declaration of Independence which resulted in the Constitution of the United States and the first 12 Articles of the Bill of Rights.  This was the impetus for the great move West, really bad news for native American Indians, but great opportunities for new settlers.  This gave rise to the transcontinental railroad, one of the longest in the world up to that point and the industrial revolution and heavy industries such as steel.  Many got extremely rich from these gambles and others became poor but the opportunities to dream and do really big things were in the minds of many people.  Edison and Tesla brought electricity into homes which spurred many more inventions and Henry Ford made cars affordable to everyone.  Oil made many ordinary people extraordinarily wealthy.  Then came the great depression and the Big Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt where the Tennessee Valley Authority was born and huge dams and other large projects built.  This was soon followed by WWII when liberty ships took one week to assemble and all the machines of war were build.  Then came the GI Bill, with large number of college graduates, and the housing boon of the 1950s and 1960s.  This was followed by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s where people started thinking about racial equality, human rights, and social justice.  Silicon Valley with all its high-tech innovations blossomed in the 1970s and 1980.

But since the 1980s America has slipped from dreaming big to thinking and doing small.  Our transportation infrastructure has fallen into disrepair with few innovative improvements.  Other nation have passed us by in new transportation alternatives such as high-speed subways and high-speed rail.  Third world nations such as China have quickly raised themselves to 2nd world status and are our economic equals and our manufacturing superiors.

Congress is indecisive in placing the US on a straight path forward so we as a nation are starting to stagnate while Asian, South American, and European nations are moving ahead.  It is becoming too costly for the business sector to make investments in this, the most affluent nation in the world.  So they do it elsewhere.  Our government seems to have no will to invest in the infrastructure of this nation, instead spending on wars abroad.

Where are the dreams and aspirations for a better and greater nation?  How will capitalism and the economic prosperity of the very rich serve the average citizen of the future as worker’s salaries remain stagnant and benefits decline?  Congress has even placed in question the effectiveness of our republic form of democratic government to move forward.

Then there is global warming.  Our nation refuses to take the lead in the war against global warming or climate change though it is less hesitant to spend lots of money on wars elsewhere.  There are conservatives in government who do not acknowledge that climate change existence in spite of all the disastrous weather events of the past decade and the 97% of scientist who believe it is true and largely man caused.  So we are a nation in denial of science and evidence to that effect.

The problem with this nation is that it has no long-term vision of what things should look like say in the next 50 years, so we respond to events day by day.  We have a buy and sell stock market mentality.  We respond to the daily ups and downs of the market.  But any market historian can tell you that the long-term trend of the market has been upwards.  It might be far wiser to buy stock from some solid S&P 500 companies and hold them for a decade or so before selling.  In other words wisely invest into the long-term future.

Having a long-term vision doesn’t mean never adjusting it but it does mean not responding so dramadicly to short-term changes.  Once there is a vision it is far easier to see what is really important to meet it and plan accordingly.  Making long-term coherent plans and acting upon them will enable this nation to transition into the future.  Having no vision makes for actions which may be reversed at the next change in circumstances.

This is survival mentality, not growth to a higher level.  Yet we are the most affluent nation in the world.  So why do we think in survival mode?  I think it starts at the very top, our government.  At one time our government was one of the most progressive and forward-looking in the world which propelled us to the top of the economic food chain.  But it has since evolved into an incoherent bureaucratic jumble of getting little accomplished.  Business takes their cues from our inept government and do what that can to influence it to suit their many purposes.  This in turn influences the behavior of the citizens.  So it’s short-term chaos.  There is no long-term vision to guide business growth and practices or the economic prosperity of citizens.

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