In an On Line Opinion piece “The Age of Reason” (January 15, 2009), David Young stated:
I used to believe that we lived in the age of reason. An age when we learn from experience and an age where we change the way we do things as we learn. I believed that science and technology could lead us to a world of prosperity for all; where wars would cease as scarcity diminished. But that was years ago.
This article - while also acknowledging the many problems confronting humanity - provides an alternative view by highlighting the ongoing reality of policy possibilities and limitations.
It is not hard to find evidence of humanity’s progress aided by the development of science and technology. For instance, while war and famine remain evident, the average human lifespan has increased from 22-25 years during the Roman Empire, to about 30 years in 1900, 64 years by 1980 and 66 in recent years. In Australia, the average lifespan has improved from about 52 years during 1891-1900 to about 80 years.
Even allowing for the environmental effects of greater insecticide and fertiliser use, much greater global food production has helped meet the nutritional needs of a rapidly growing world population (1.65 billion in 1900 to 6.7 billion in 2008).
And for those of us who believe in the positive role of government, there are many national examples that demonstrate a much fairer distribution of resources than previous centuries in regards to a society’s social policy needs, as shaped by ongoing interaction with interest groups and public opinion. Despite recent trends towards lower taxation rates for high-income earners and corporations, most Western societies have maintained a reasonable balance between government intervention and market forces as illustrated by an ongoing commitment to maintain a decent social welfare system.
There is also the reality that many societies have increasingly adopted progressive policies on race, gender, sexuality and even the environment.
In addition, polls show that a majority of nations accept that democracy is the most appropriate political system to enable a nation to encourage and maintain cohesion and meet its various economic, social and environmental needs.
Of course, with increasing concern about income disparity and environmental degradation at both the national and international levels, there is an obvious need for better policy ideas.
But, if one notes that progress can be slow, it is much wiser for a commentator to recognise policy limitations rather than blaming policy failure on people’s irrationality, inability, or reluctance to accept new ideas.
While we criticise our own national political leaders (with some even suggesting that corporations run society and determine who will lead the country), most of us look to our major political parties to uphold the national interest in these difficult times of ongoing economic reform.
If we accept the relevance of nations, it remains a reality that a society must organise itself in way conducive to it benefiting from its interaction with the international economy in order to prosper and meet its various economic, social and environmental needs.
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