In Praise of the Long Run
On the left, the long run gets a bad rap. As in: we’ve got no time to think about the long run; it’s just a distraction from the fights we need to win right here, right now. Besides, things are terrible right now–Trump and so on. It would be deceptive to focus on the long run. And in the long run, we’re all dead. Etc.
But I think the virtues of a long run perspective are seriously underrated. Here are a few of the ways.
1. The fact of the matter is that very little changes in the short-term, especially the things the left tends to care about. Even for big things like progressive legislation, it takes years for their full effects to be felt. The near future tends to look a lot like the present, which frustrates many on the left.
Considered over the long run, things tend to look different and a lot better. Take Obamacare. There are lots of problems with Obamacare and left supporters of single-payer have noted all of them. But looked at in the long run, the program is an absolutely amazing step forward, getting the left much closer toward the goal of universal coverage it’s been pushing for 100 years. Even if the right succeeds in some temporary pushback, it will be temporary (and the smart ones already know this). Over the long run, progress will continue and the left is highly likely to achieve its goal.
Similarly, it’s easy to get upset with current levels of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment and so on. That’s understandable. Looked over the long term, however, what is striking is how far public sentiment has shifted in the last 50 years–and all in a positive, more tolerant direction. That’s an enormous gain for the values of the left.
2. What we do have in the short-term is winners and losers. Lots and lots of winners and losers. There are the winners of the day, the week, the month.And most of all there the big winners and losers: the winners and losers of the last election and the upcoming winners and losers of the next election. The latter expands to fill all available mental space the closer that next election becomes.
You can lose your head and your perspective keeping track of all these winners and losers and most do. The question of what is really changing in our society disappears from sight.
3. A long run perspective helps you keep your eye on the prize and have clear priorities. The left can’t do everything at once nor should it try. The historical record suggests many things are moving in the right direction but the main thing that is not is the level and quality of economic growth. Over the long run, correcting the latter trend is almost certainly the key to maximum success for the left and its goals. Therefore, rather than rending its garments about short-term wins and losses, the left would be well-advised to concentrate on fixing what is most likely to matter over the long run.