As the calendar passes from 2012 to 2013, we should remind ourselves that the American Dream is still within reach, but as a country we cannot ignore global economic or political forces. America can still make decisions that largely determine its future, even as our opportunities are more dependent on the rest of the world than ever before.
The National Intelligence Council recently said as much when it gave America its best forecast on what to expect in the coming years. Its "Global Trends 2030" report warns that the United States' superpower status could erode as Asian economies surpass the combined economies of North America and Europe. Rising populations in poor countries may lead to increasing conflicts over water and food. Forecasters say instability could even contribute to global economic collapse, which could be more likely due to rapid climate change.
On a positive note, the United States will become energy independent, helped by our storehouse of natural gas. Acts of terrorism will wane (though cyber-terrorism will increase). Technology could resolve many of the world's problems.
But let's take a deep breath. Predicting the future is not easy, and trends can change. Asian economies are rising now but could stall. Increased cooperation between China and the United States may happen, or a wary friendship could become more strained.
The bottom line is that the future is what we make it. Reports like those released by the National Intelligence Council urge us to be forward-thinking, which is good. Our government tends to move slowly when faced with large issues. To grab hold of a successful future, we need to be ready to act before it's too late.
Empires rise and empires fall. They grow tired. There are signs already that America is tiring of its role as a world leader. We risk less. We spend less on our military defense to balance the budget. Our manufacturing base stagnates and is replaced by a non-wealth increasing information base. We think more of luxury and comfort. Our gap between rich and poor accelerates, lessening our shared experiences.
We risk becoming an observer of global events. Our history has been to make things happen. It's a theme we need to continue.
Mankato, Minn., Free Press