Only four years ago, a friend echoed a common sentiment as the stock market plummeted. “We’ll never see the Dow back at fourteen thousand in our lifetimes.” On May 7, the Dow closed at 15,056. Yesterday it closed at 15,233.
I’m not touting the stock market, although my portfolio—conservative at this stage in my life—maintains equity (stock) assets. Not denying that great damage was done to the nation, investors who held on eventually rode out the storm. Yet being emotional creatures, people often make sweeping statements. Sometimes we’re right. But not always.
It’s safe to say that our world faces continuing challenges. Unemployment remains high, although the numbers are trending positively. Still, many Americans believe that the nation will never be the same. They’re right to a point, because from decade to decade America has never been the same. Periods of optimism have been countered by periods of pessimism. In 1933, during the Great Depression, unemployment hit 25 percent. Many people lost faith in our democracy and in the ability of capitalism to serve ordinary people. Some threw their support to Soviet communism. We know how the USSR ultimately fared.
Long-term, we may witness a new wave of prosperity. In ten and twenty years much of the Baby Boom generation will have retired and begun dying off. Jobs—even in a changing economy—will open in significant numbers. While individual histories will be filled with difficulties and suffering, as is always the case, the nation will probably experience resurgence despite today’s wide gap in income distribution.
The world beyond our borders also may change for the better, although serious problems will never disappear. I remember when no one believed that the Cold War would end. It did. No one believed that peace would come to Northern Ireland. It did. The same goes for South Africa abandoning apartheid.
Israel and the Palestinians? Egypt? Syria? Iran? Eventually, although probably beyond my lifetime, the Muslim world may sort itself out. Yet an unforeseen breakthrough could arise within the next few years. I’m no Pollyana. The war between Islamism (as opposed to Islam) and modernity could last a century or more. But America’s lifetime will be long, and if I personally don’t see resolution, this nation may witness a Muslim world choosing the twenty-first—or twenty-second—century over the seventh.
As to China, hopefully cool heads will prevail. Each nation has more to gain through cooperation than hostility. A marriage of convenience—filled with tension but governed by recognition of the potential consequences of active hostility—may represent the best we can do. Given the imperfections of the world, that’s not bad.
As a nation and as individuals, we need to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground. But we also must raise our eyes upward rather than bury our heads in the sand. Even a practitioner of realpolitik can maintain a sense of hope that the human condition, like the Dow, can reach new heights. Paraphrasing the Book of Ecclesiastes (1:5), the sun also rises.
I’ll be taking the next two Fridays off and will post again on June 7.
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