On January 12, Bernard L. Swartz Fellows Peter Beinart and Megan McArdle discussed the legacy of the past decade, with particular focus on U.S. foreign policy and the economy. The event was moderated by Andrés Martinez, Director of the Fellows Program. The speakers were introduced by Steve Coll, President of New America.
Megan McArdle discussed the lessons of the great depression in light of the recent financial crisis. Careers were based on the lessons of the great depression, she said, and these lessons haven’t been forgotten. Enron wasn’t as bad as other corporate failures historically, for instance, and while insiderism persists, it was not the primary reason that the U.S. got into such trouble economically. McArdle also noted that at the same time, she is not sure that America as an economic power is in decline, that America is doing quite well relatively to, say, Europe. Lastly, McArdle discussed the emergence of complex collective action problems such as climate change, as well as technological advances and the rising eminence of user-generated content.
Peter Beinart emphasized the cycles of confidence, overconfidence, and failure in U.S. foreign policy. To tell that story for this past decade, he said, one has to start with Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Reagan was highly constrained by the legacy of Vietnam, but after his Presidency, over the course of the 90s, one saw greater and great willingness to take on risk, a growth in confidence, and a building pressure leading to overreaching and the overpromising of George W. Bush—in Afghanistan, for instance. On an optimistic note, Beinart said, this decade has shown that the obituaries of Francis Fukuyama’s end of history idea may have been written a little too quickly. Historically, waves of democratization are followed by retrenchment, and in comparison, the most recent retrenchment—including Russia’s—hasn’t been that severe.
Event attendees filled out a survey making predictions for the coming year. The winner will earn a free dinner. To the question: “Which I-country will receive the most mentions in the print edition of the New York Times in 2010?” 37 said Iran; 20 said Iraq; 19 said Israel; and 3 said Italy. To the question: “The stock market in which P-country will perform best in 2010?” 31 said Poland; 24 said Peru; 20 said the Philippines; and 4 said Pakistan. To the question “The Democrats currently hold 256 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. After the 2010 mid-term elections, the Democrats representation in that chamber will have?” 31 said shrunk by less than 10 seats; 30 said shrunk by 10-20 seats; 10 said shrunk by more than 20 seats; and 4 said grown.