Obama right and wrong

In the November issue of Wired, the Frontiers Issue, President Barack Obama contributes an editorial that shows him much more in tune with our outlook and our world view than we had supposed. 

Firstly, he is optimistic about the present and the future. "The truth is," he says, "if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one."  Agreed.  The world is better than it has been.  "A smaller share of humans know chronic hunger or live in extreme poverty."  Yes, indeed, and the future will be better still because we will make it so by doing more of what it took to achieve that. 

"Humans—through our ingenuity, our commitment to fact and reason, and ultimately our faith in each other—can science the heck out of just about any problem."  Well said.  Human creativity can devise solutions to overcome challenges and improve the world.  Technology can solve problems better, we think, than wishful thinking or pious resolutions.  It can enhance and enrich the lives that future people will live.

Where we part company with him is on the methodology that can bring this about.  He clearly thinks in terms of political action to solve pressing problems. "To clear these hurdles we’re going to need everyone—policy makers and community leaders, teachers and workers and grassroots activists."  Actually some of the groups he mentions are going to be opposing the innovations that can solve problems, a brake on progress rather than a spur to it.  What it is going to need is space for human creativity and ingenuity to develop and flourish.  It is going to need entrepreneurs, and conditions that favour their talents. 

Instead of big projects developed and orchestrated by governments, it is going to need a large measure of the personal liberty that allows people to break out from the norm and seek new things and new ways.  It is going to need property rights, low taxes and regulations to foster growth and innovation.  It is going to need a culture that esteems and rewards innovative problem-solving. 

Governments have a role to play, of course.  But it will not be one of restricting and confining the lives people live and of limiting their choices and their chances.  It will be one of embracing new technologies and allowing those who discover and develop them to be rewarded for doing so.  It will be one that flows with the tide of an unbounded and spontaneous future rather than one that seeks to confine it to preconceived and pre-planned channels.

Marks for attitude, Mr President, but not for methodology.

See the full Wired article here.