A Solution to Our Problems? Not in a Hundred Years.

Posted on January 9, 2013

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I have long been a proponent of the tenet that, to move forward successfully, we must first look back. It’s crucial to understand the roots of today’s issues and even more important to understand the mistakes that have been made along the way so we don’t repeat them.  Many of the political, social and cultural issues that confront us today may seem dire and difficult, but if we look back we will find their roots in earlier generations that took steps to resolve even more desperate situations.

For example, few of us would come up with the events of 1913 as those that laid the groundwork for so much of today’s discussions at lunch counters, cubicles and Congressional deliberations. As we enter 2013, however, we should take a closer look at the amazing confluence of developments that occurred 100 years ago. Among them, consider these:

  • In January, William M Burton patented a process to “crack” petroleum, doubling the yield of gasoline that could be extracted from crude oil. Today, for all the social and geographic expansion it has enabled, gasoline has fueled wars, shifted the boundaries of entire nations and served as the culprit of choice for a polluted environment. Now fracking seeks to replace cracking but remains a topic of environmental concern.
  • That same month the first sedan, a Hudson, was displayed at the New York City Auto Show. Today, the traditional sedan has given way to crossovers, mini-compacts and electric vehicles that emphasize fuel efficiency, rather than family roominess.
  • Early in 1913, Congress passed the 16th Amendment, imposing a federal income tax. Today, tax rates stand at the center of our political debate, and the need for reforming the tax structure that we began assembling a century ago has become more prominent.
  • On July 10, 1913, Death Valley, California recorded a temperature of 134° F., the highest temperature ever recorded before or since, anywhere in the world. Now we hear that the year we have just concluded was the warmest ever in the United States, and the still indeterminable impacts of global warming are likely to continue in 2013.
  • In the fall of 1913, Henry Ford activated his moving assembly line, one of the most revolutionary developments in industrial history. Today, assembly lines are still critical to manufacturing operations of all sorts, but processes like 3D printing and automated manufacturing hold prospects for generating another revolution in production.

The point of these reflections is to realize that many of our most intractable problems have developed over the period of a hundred years or more; yet Congress and various factions throughout the nation continue to demand instant solutions. Let’s learn from the past century of dealing with these issues and take the time to develop healthy, positive solutions, rather than merely expedient ones.

–Steve Friedman

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