Five reasons for optimism in 2012

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Five reasons, small and grand, for optimism in 2012:

  • Even Katherine Kersten is hopeful. I like much of what the conservative firebrand said in her latest Star Tribune column, about the “debilitating hail” of news that emphasizes “crisis and decline” and how American success has been founded on the “virtue of hope.” This was a nice break from her relentless negativity about any and all things public and progressive about our nation and state. She missed some points about how Americans were always hopeful for justice and greater equality, as well as freedom and business growth. But a little ray of sunshine from KK is wonderfully refreshing.
  • A good friend of mine may have turned the corner in treatment for a nasty disease. A big reason health-care costs keep going up is that people live longer, and thus more people need more medicine and more doctors during more of their lives. I’ll got out on a limb and declare that people living longer is a good thing. Another reason for rising health-care costs and increasing under-insurance is expensive financial administrative costs in the health sector and Growth & Justice will produce a study early this year that takes a look a the costs and benefits of a universal and unified system of health care for Minnesota.
  • The American people are hopeful, amazingly. Although most Americans overwhelmingly view 2011 as a bad year, a recent Associated Press poll found that almost 80 percent of Americans are optimistic about the future of their own families in 2012, and more than 60 percent are optimistic about 2012 for the country as a whole. The polls suggests that Democrats are optimistic than their candidate will be re-elected and Republicans are optimistic than they will win, but hey, it’s all optimism.
  • Things actually are getting better for humankind as a whole. As Harvard professor Steven Pinker recounts in his convincing and exhaustive new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” the current era is the safest and least violent in recent human history, and living conditions are improving everywhere. I like his theory about human progress being part of the “civilizing process,” a term he borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias, who attributes it to the consolidation of the power of the state above feudal loyalties, and to the effect of the spread of commerce. In other words: a happy synthesis of capitalism and good strong democratic governments.
  • Finally, in Minnesota, we are well governed and our businesses leadership is better than elsewhere. Our public sector and our private sector are fundamentally sound, despite gridlock in Washington and depredations on Wall Street. I like what a recent Star Tribune editorial had to say at year’s end about Gov. Mark Dayton taking us in the right direction, and the state Senate is now under the leadership of a Republican who is openly moderate.

The economic collapse of late 2008 turned out to be as big a hole as we thought and there is lots of room for improvement all around, from redesigning our governments to restoring our public investments in educational attainment and public infrastructure, to reducing racial and income inequality. Lots of things can and will go wrong. But there’s no future in pessimism. See the doughnut, not the hole.