Warren Buffett, who has generated extraordinary wealth by betting wisely, recently advised his shareholders to avoid the “negative drumbeat” that has consumed the current election cycle. “For 240 years it’s been a terrible mistake to bet against America,” he wrote, adding, “The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”
I could not agree more. At times when the country’s politics trend toward the negative, it’s natural to wonder whether we will ever fully harness our potential as a nation. And yet, we are positioned this century to take advantage of extraordinary existing assets, innovations and trends in a variety of realms. From advances in technology, to making use of our rising productivity and burgeoning wealth, to realizing the potential of our growing population, to finally recognizing that our institutions of higher education—our knowledge-producing enterprises—can be transformative forces to confront and solve society’s challenges.
Think back a few years. Remember how the idea of energy independence seemed like science fiction? And yet today not only is that close to being a reality, US entrepreneurs and innovators are determined to realize cheap, clean energy solutions that can power our needs and those of more than a billion new middle-class consumers around the world.
As much as we rightly question the short-comings of our health care system, we have witnessed amazing advances in our lifetimes. Think about it: You take for granted that if you’re suffering from a cardiac condition, a surgeon can reach into your chest and fix your heart. Man has mapped the human genome, unleashing what will be decades of discoveries in how disease works and what kinds of personalized medical responses will extend our lifespans and improve our lives.
The continuing evolution of ever-more-powerful computers that you can carry in your pocket puts a universe of information at your fingertips. And even as some bemoan the changes and funding of NASA that have limited manned missions, we are on the verge of a new era of space exploration that is not only expanding our understanding of the universe, but also laying the groundwork for space travel that could take humans to Mars and beyond. This combination of scientific experimentation, technological wizardry, courage and imagination will make it possible to finally demonstrate that the human species is not bound by Planet Earth. And it will provide a new generation of economic benefits and scientific insights.
As Warren Buffett noted, 2 percent real growth in per capita GDP over the next 25 years would represent an average $76,000 annual gain for a family of four. That impressive sum is derived from a workforce that is more productive and efficient than ever before. It’s the job of all of us to address the economic inequalities that minimize the potential that that wealth can produce in our society.
Even as we witness controversy in the public sphere over our burgeoning immigrant population, this youthful expansion represents one of our most promising assets, something that every country facing a shrinking, aging population only wishes it had. Rather than envisioning this as a burden, we have an opportunity to expand the educational attainment and workforce development of our newest immigrants so that the overall society benefits from their brainpower and participation in the country’s economic growth.
That’s where universities—committed to transmitting and producing knowledge for the betterment of society—come in. New learning platforms and a nascent spirit of collaboration that is spreading among some of our major research universities is reason for great optimism—a future in which more and more institutions will focus not on winnowing down the number of students who are admitted, but on producing master learners at scale and creating knowledge that will improve the quality of life and transform our planet. Our collective survival depends on this; so does our ability to be a nation that achieves its promise and continues to be a vibrant model for the world.
I wouldn’t bet against it.