The Next Decade by George Friedman, Doubleday 2011

 

Empires like the Roman Empire and the British Empire just happen over a long period of time—also true of the incipient American empire.  By and large planned empires, with their emperors designated up front, fail promptly, examples: Napoleon and Hitler.  (Alexander the Great and Ghengis Kahn were not mentioned.) 

 

The very title of the book emphasizes that who is president of the United States matters a great deal because of the missed opportunities of the last ten years both in lack of diplomacy and lack of Machiavellian logic.  The historical background and logic of Friedman’s analyses are impressive; examples: less involvement with Israel and more involvement with Poland because it is a buffer between Germany and Russia (with good documentation).

 

My greatest disappointment in the analysis occurred in the discussion of legalizing hard drugs.

. ….”the street price would plunge, the economics of smuggling would collapse, and the violence along the border [with Mexico] …would decline precipitously.” (pages 209-10)   This was followed two paragraphs later by, “No significant political coalition in the United States is prepared to embrace the principle of crushing the illegal drug trade by legalization.  So, like national identity cards, legalization simply won’t fly for internal ideological reasons.” 

 

There was no mention of tobacco, a legal addicting drug, being controlled by taxation, education, and social pressure.  Similar success with marijuana, which is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol, might lead, ultimately in this reviewer’s opinion, to success with truly hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.

 

I close with some more editorial comment.  I agree with the author that it is very important who is president of our country and especially for the next decade or so.  To this end we should embrace 1) meaningful campaign finance reform.  An salient example is Maine where, for more than a decade, state-wide political candidates who accept limited public financing are protected from runaway spending by an opponent with unlimited private financing because the state will then add 80% of the excess spent over public financing by the opponent to the campaign funds of the candidate who accepted the state’s limited amount.  Now, well over 90% of Maine’s state-wide candidates accept public financing, greatly reducing the cost of elections and permitting more qualified candidates of more ordinary financial means.  And we should also embrace 2) instant run off elections to prevent inadvertent election of a minority candidate—the most recent example of this was Ross Perot’s candidacy possibly enhancing Bill Clinton’s election in 1992.  Instant run off means that when more than two candidates are on the ballot for the same office, second (and, if appropriate, higher order) choices are recorded on the ballots and used to determine who would have support of a majority of the electorate if a second election were conducted immediately and without the expense and delay. 

 

Recent court decisions in Maine, Arizona, and especially the “Citizens United!?” (punctuation for raised eyebrows) decision of the Supreme Court early this year indicate that we will wait awhile more before we divert rapidly increasing election costs to pressing societal problems like infrastructure (repairing rusty bridges) and personal health (the single payer is looking more efficient than subsidized insurance).   

 

The author, George Friedman is founder and CEO of Stratfor, a think tank and distributor of geopolitical intelligence (www.Stratfor.com).  I truly appreciated his insights in spite of the few quibbles that I have mentioned.   I recommend reading this book.

 

John A. Frantz, MD                                                                                                                                 

February 16, 2011, revised August 12, 2011