So who is right about the current state of America, investor Warren Buffett or presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?
Is our nation still the creative powerhouse whose "golden goose of commerce and innovation will continue to lay more and larger eggs" and whose children born today "are the luckiest crop in history," as the billionaire Buffett put it in his annual letter to shareholders released over the weekend?
Or is this country an enfeebled, shackled giant that "doesn't win" and is "going to hell" (Trump), and whose corporations are "destroying the fabric" of our society in what has become a "rigged economy" (Sanders)?
No one can predict the future, of course, and most people who try look slightly silly several decades down the road.
But if we had to wager on the optimism of Buffett or the pessimism of the two angriest candidates of this angry political season — with other candidates not far behind — we'd choose the former outlook every time.
Or to be precise, we'd choose a toned-down version of that outlook.
The United States has big problems, but it's hard to think of a major nation that doesn't have bigger ones. And meanwhile, fast-churning progress in technologies such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics, biotechnology, micro-manufacturing and medicine, just to mention a few, suggest that most Americans by mid-century will enjoy lives that are way more prosperous and healthy than they are today.
That's not to say there aren't clouds that political leaders should be trying to disperse rather than ignore. U.S. debt will begin to surge again in the coming decade as the population ages and entitlement spending ticks upward. None of the candidates for president appears willing to confront this issue. In fact, most would add to the debt through accelerated, unpaid-for spending or large tax cuts, with Sanders and Trump being the worst offenders.
And while the economy may still be a golden goose, to adopt Buffett's phrase, a long-term slowdown in business startups and productivity is worrisome, not to mention stagnant wages for too many in the middle class.
Countering these challenges in the context of today's anger-soaked politics will be difficult. But here too we suspect Buffett is on to something when he says, "For 240 years it's been a terrible mistake to bet against America, and now is no time to start."
– The Denver Post