Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Last Reform of the Twentieth Century

The new health-care law is the last of the great liberal reforms of the twentieth century, passed ten years after the century ended.

In 1900, the average American income was just slightly above what we now call the poverty level. Liberals wanted to establish a social welfare system that provided everyone with certain basic necessities, such as education, health care, and income during retirement. We have finally passed a law to provide almost universal health care, so that a curable disease will no longer present some people with the choice between bankruptcy and death.

Now it is time to move on to the urgently needed reforms of the twenty-first century.

In 2000, the average American income was more than seven times as much as in 1900. At the end of the nineteenth century, most Americans did not consume enough. But today, most Americans consume too much.

To create a sustainable future, we need a series of reforms that let us downshift economically, that let us live simpler and more satisfying lives. This is the challenge to liberals in this century, just as providing the basics of social welfare was the challenge to liberals in the twentieth century.