Why Is The World (Not) So Dangerous?

Herbert Meyer

Once upon a time over at my old blogging home at the Ashbrook Center’s NoLeftTurns site, I took note of the single most interesting document I came across in my ten years of research for my two Age of Reagan volumes: CIA deputy director Herbert Meyer’s November 1983 memo—in hindsight the key month of the Reagan story—to CIA director Bill Casey (and Reagan) on “Why Is The World So Dangerous?”  In this now famous but then-classified memo, Meyer predicted that the Cold War had reached a turning point, and that we were now on our way to winning it if we kept our nerve and perceived matters clearly.  The whole memo still makes for gripping reading today and is worth a few extra minutes to read through all the way.  His timeline wasn’t nearly optimistic enough, but he had the dynamic exactly right. From the memo:

It has long been fashionable to view the Cold War as a permanent feature of global politics, one that will endure through the next several generations at least. But it seems to me more likely that President Reagan was absolutely correct when he observed in his Notre Dame speech that the Soviet Union—“one of history’s saddest and most bizarre chapters”—is entering its final pages. We really should take up the President’s suggestion to begin planning for a post-Soviet world.

Right now Jerry Bowyer, a columnist for Forbes.com, is out with an interview with Meyer, entitled “The Next Big Thing from the Official Who Predicted Communism’s Demise.”  Jerry has both an audio interview available on this story, as well as a prose summary.  Meyer, in one sentence, is optimistic again.  After reviewing why almost no one at the CIA foresaw Soviet weakness the way Reagan did intuitively, Meyer looks ahead, and thinks that a new global economic boom is on the way:

When you stand back from all the yelling and the screaming…you can see what I believe is the most important trend in the word…the world is emerging from poverty fast. This is the biggest under-reported news story in the world.

By 1980 or 1990 about two billion human beings were out of poverty, since then another half billion have crossed the line out of poverty; a lot of them in India and china. In the last six years 20 million Brazilians have emerged. When you put all these numbers together…each year between fifty and one hundred million human beings are leaving poverty behind.

If we can continue this trend within our lifetimes, and certainly within our children’s lifetimes, the overwhelming majority of human beings will no longer be poor.  This is the biggest thing that’s happened in the entire world.

By the way it’s going to be a five billion-person middle class. This will become the most powerful force in the world. Their demand for our goods and services will set off an economic boom…I believe that we’re heading for not just a sonic boom, but maybe a supersonic boom.

Is Meyer going to be right again?  If this is right or even partly right it will not mean the world is no longer a dangerous place; my title is taking some editorial license and is a reference to that long-ago but justly famous memo of his.  But the globalization of middle class prosperity will represent a new phase in human history with a lot of implications.; it would likely be a less dangerous place.  Bowyer hedges a bit on whether he thinks Meyer is right, especially about whether Islam will reconcile itself to middle class prosperity, but I wouldn’t bet against Meyer (who, by the way, once told me he is a Power Line reader).

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