I suppose I can be accused of cherry-picking here, but I got to thinking today about how most problems in the past half-century have been dealt with to the extent that they have been dealt with successfully. Have they been the result of great policies and social solutions? Or have they been a result of technical change? Now of course there is a thick gray line between these, but I am pretty sure that the weight of evidence is heavily in favor of the latter.
Think about the big environmental changes in your lifetime – it was not great social policy that got us there, despite what the history textbooks and environmental advocacy groups may lead you to believe. The filth of car pollution was dealt with by catalytic converters (don’t tell me regulations required them …) it was not solved through public transit or carpooling or taxes. What about the giant hole in the ozone layer (hilariously NASA scientists threw out the satellite data showing the hole because their theory did not predict it)? Did we end up digging root cellars in all of our homes? Nope. We simply changed the refrigerants that we used. Or how about the thinning eggs of the peregrine falcons? Did we do as Naomi Klein suggested? End industrial capitalism as we know it? Go back to more local. community drive lives? Nope. Not at all. We just developed better insecticides that did not accumulate up the food chain.
I was once told by a friend that there is “no constituency for efficiency” in Washington. I doubted him. But thinking about how things have progressed in my lifetime seems to support his point. I do not expect our political process to get any better in my lifetime – it will suffer through spasms and fits and starts – I think the progress we will see, to the extent that we see any, will come despite the political process, and at best the politicians will ex post lay claim to having a hand in any success we have.