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The Shape of Things to Come?

June 30, 1996

Nina J. Easton's "civil society" is not, of course, a quick fix to all the social problems that we face ("The Year is 2016 and American Society Has Finally Become Civilized," May 19). But it illustrates that conservatives do believe that if Americans have the will to come together and continually experiment to see what works and what doesn't, those problems aren't really as insurmountable as they seem to be today.

It is clear that welfare-state liberalism is waning for two reasons: First, it reacts slowly in the face of rapid change, and when it does offer solutions, they will be rigid, difficult to change and obsolete by the time they are finally implemented; second, the omnipotent government it favors retaining is hostile to the emergence of a civil society that would ultimately render much of a welfare state's activities redundant.

Norman F. Birnberg

Long Beach


Easton has formulated a new and improved snake oil. She projects the same bland and shortsighted ideas that have dominated since the 1980s. In a world in which complex problems such as disease, war, corporate corruption, poverty and voter disenfranchisement dominate our days, do we really believe that Americans are ready to accept "plop-plop, fizz-fizz" answers?

To project the future, Easton should reject the assumptions of the past. The Global Village is not simply a Global Marketplace; there are actually complex social forces involved as well. Better "incentives" and technology won't drive people away from the daily business commute into home-based, prosperous businesses. Skyscrapers and suburbs will not survive the eventual uprising that will result as the pundits and chess players continue to sell their greed as fiscal pragmatism.

We are on a course for disaster. If bleeding off needed basic resources to a bloated "Evil Empire" war machine could destroy the Soviets, what makes us think that our cruel, moralizing corporate charities will do any better? Is the private sector truly a messiah? Perhaps we should ask the former CEOs of failed savings and loans.

When are we going to admit that a strong and fair government is not the enemy? Jeffrey P. Colin



Easton offers an interesting futuristic vision of American society but neglects a possible trend that may radically alter the scenario: the increasing accumulation of private capital through tax changes favoring savings and investment and the transfer of the bulk of social insurance taxes into individual accounts. Examples would be MSAs and expanded forms of IRAs to supplement or replace Social Security. Such accounts could be available to reduce the risks of unemployment, sickness and disability, education and retirement, thereby replacing those government insurance schemes that consume the bulk of taxes. Also, private medical accounts would give individuals incentives to economize on use and discriminate on price. And, finally, the widespread accumulation of private capital could reduce economic inequality and help reconcile class conflicts over tax policy that restrain economic growth. Michael Harrington

Department of Political Science


Easton's article on America's possible future was a balanced and accurate depiction based on current trends. Millions of Americans pray every day that much of what she described will soon become reality. Mark J. Christian

Los Angeles

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