What Slate Readers Think About the Biggest Challenges Facing America

Tackling the most important issues of the next 30 years.
Oct. 30 2013 4:24 PM

What Slate Readers Think About the Biggest Challenges Facing America

We asked, you answered.

Applicants waiting in line at a job fair
Readers worry most about where the economy will be in 30 years.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

This article is part of a series presented by the American Prosperity Consensus in partnership with Slate. You can read the rest of the stories in this series here.

Three weeks ago, Slate and the Copenhagen Consensus Center launched the American Prosperity Consensus. On the very first day of the  government shutdown, APC asked expert organizations and Slate readers for their ideas on how the U.S. might overcome short-term, partisan divisions and begin to focus on the issues that matter most to ensure American prosperity in 2040.

APC seeks to determine the best course of action while acknowledging the trends that will change the U.S. domestically and shape the role it plays in the world. When we look at the reader input and expert commentary, there is a great deal of overlap with major polls. The overarching concerns have been about jobs and the state of the economy. Slate readers pushed these two issues in the comments on nearly every piece we ran in the series. Whether experts were discussing immigration or infrastructure, readers wanted to know how the topic connected to improving the U.S.’s economic situation. They also worry about what kind of jobs will be available to them and to their children. This input is consistent with poll results from Gallup and Pew Research, in which the top two issues Americans rank as most important are a stronger economy and more jobs.

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A third area where we see a great deal of agreement is on the affordability of health care, which takes prominence both with Slate readers and in opinion polls. As the country grows older, the cost of necessary care weighs on Americans’ minds. Taken together, these three points cut to the heart of the American Prosperity Consensus: How can we ensure lasting growth from now through 2040?

In other areas, Slate readers tended to focus more on the ways the government spends its money than on the overall level of spending. Your apprehensions over the Affordable Care Act, for example, relate less to the cost of the program itself than on provisions like low-income subsidies. The Gallup and Pew polls point more generally to Americans’ concern over federal spending and the budget deficit.  The polls also show continued concern over the threat of terrorism; Slate readers were more troubled instead by the role of threat inflation on bloated military budgets, and worried about how sustained increase in defense spending impacted outlays for areas such as education.

Slate readers also expressed concern about the perceived influence of commercial and corporate interests in the political process. This topic arose on subjects as diverse as obesity and food processing to immigration and bridge maintenance. The common theme you articulated across these topics was that unless the U.S. government can counter this influence, societal benefits will always come second to corporate profits.

There were other noticeable divergences between your feedback and the opinion polls. Slate readers were strongly concerned about climate change and the environment whereas Gallup and Pew polls show that the average American places relatively low importance on these issues compared with subjects such as the economy, taxes, or terrorism.

Fundamental to the APC is the acknowledgement that the very fabric of American society is changing; as I said in my opening piece, the U.S. of 2040 will be a far different place than the country we know today. Americans continue to reshape their identity, and the outcomes of this process will weigh heavily on the nation for years to come. This idea will play out as we ask economists to craft smart solutions to the issues you have named and advance the debate. Future pieces from APC will focus in greater depth on topics from climate change and the environment to lobbying and campaign finance. The project is one of inclusion, and we strive to reach out to as many people as possible.

The American Prosperity Consensus seeks to prioritize the smart policy solutions that will provide the most impact on American growth over the next three decades. We’re looking forward to discovering from you how to make the most of America’s future.

Bjørn Lomborg is an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School and directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, and most recently How Much Have Global Problems Cost the World?

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