Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Energizing the real mainsprings of American power"

Niall Ferguson at the 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival

Unlike Britain in 1945, which was crushed by debt and slow growth, doomed to imperial decline, I think there is a way out for the United States. I don't think it's over. But it all hinges on whether you can re-energize the real mainsprings of American power. And those two things are: innovation, technological innovation, and entrepreneurship. Those are the things that made the United States the greatest economy in the world, and the critical question is: Are we going to get it right? Can we revive those things in such a way that, in the end, we grow our way out of this hole the way the United States grew its way out of the 1970s and, of course, out of the 1930s?

So do we have what it takes? I read what conservatives and progressives are writing and I don't see any real commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship. They may try to superficially and opportunistically associate their ideology with innovation and entrepreneurship but neither ideology has a vision for the type of society that we need. America is not Britain in 1945 transitioning from Empire to Socialism. British decline was not about losing the Empire. Why is Japan the 2nd largest economy rather than Britain? It could be Britain, but it's not. It's about policy and culture and drive. What America faces is nothing like what any power has ever faced. We need not just one but several political ideologies that articulate visions that offer us options for the world that we live in. And so Ferguson's critical question: Are we going to get it right? And I ask: do we have the imagination to get it right? The imagination to go beyond the ideologies we have inherited? The point is that the solution to our current problems will not come from what we think we know. It will be a discovery of something that we don't know.

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