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Essay: Good News for the New Year – and Beyond

Among the many positive developments, the improved diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba are in included in Art Cyr's list.

Does it feel to you like all the international news comes with a side order of doom and gloom?  Lake Effect essayist Art Cyr says there are reasons to keep our collective chin up:

“Nattering nabobs of negativism,” is probably the most enduring of the many alliterative pronouncements of Spiro Agnew, Vice President in the Nixon administration until forced to resign because of corruption. This particular phrase, penned by Nixon speechwriter William Safire, derogatively denigrated diligent reporters for placing bad news above good.

Why, Agnew asked rhetorically, did the malicious media not put priority on the positive? He attacked “pusillanimous pussyfooters” allegedly allergic to America.

Inspired by the positive points of the spirit of Spiro “Good News” Agnew, below is a list of definitive developments that definitely deserve dissemination and discussion.

First, democracy is becoming the accepted way of life for the world’s population overall, not just the privileged few. As recently as three decades ago, the people of Latin America lived almost uniformly in various degrees of authoritarian regime.

Today, Castro’s Cuba is literally the only remaining dictatorship in the Americas. Despite pervasive and ruthless state political control, the increasingly desperate need for foreign investment is forcing Havana’s geriatric communists to loosen their iron grip. Reestablishing long-severed diplomatic ties with the U.S. is one result.

Even autocratic Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had to face the voters, and near the end of his rule lost on occasion. Once tiny Costa Rica was a beacon of freedom south of our border. Now that light spreads throughout the Americas.

Likewise, reasonably honest and genuinely contested elections are spreading in Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union and – at least on local levels – China. In global context, the dramatic tumultuous “Arab Spring” overall is partly a manifestation of the worldwide drive toward fair representative government.

The Korean peninsula is especially instructive. While attention is focused on the brutal North Korea regime, including political tyranny and ominous long-term development of nuclear weapons, South Korea continues remarkable economic and political progress.

South Korea’s duly elected first woman president, Park Geun-hye, was inaugurated at the start of 2013. She is the daughter of long-term dictator President Park Chung-hee.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic majority nation, is equally important in strategic terms. The government is stable, a firm U.S. ally, effective in combating Islamic terrorism. By contrast, during the mid-1960s apparent drift into the Soviet orbit encouraged American military escalation in Vietnam – a crucial factor rarely mentioned today.

Second, market economics is spreading, as alternative economic systems fail. Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 declaration of “People’s Socialism” for China has become a benchmark event for not only that nation but the vast Asia regions overall, and well beyond.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between mainland China and Taiwan is an historic result of the free market economic revolution. Virtually all economic barriers have come down. In consequence, Taiwan’s role as source of investment, trade and expertise is vastly expanding.

Third, global progress proceeds during extraordinary long-term growth in economic production. Yale Historian Paul Kennedy, in “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” notes total world industrial manufacturing rose from an assigned base level of 100 in 1900 to 3041.6 by 1980.

In industrial nations, the average human lifespan doubled in the twentieth century. This transformation in quality of life is described in the CATO Institute’s “It’s Getting Better All The Time,” by Stephen Moore and Julian Simon.

Undeniably, free competitive economies and open competitive elections are interconnected, historically and currently. Adam Smith’s classic “The Wealth of Nations” appeared in 1776, the year the American Revolution began.

Lake Effect contributor Art Cyr is professor of political economy and world business and director of the Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College in Kenosha.

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Arthur I. Cyr is Director of the Clausen Center for World Business and Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha. Previously he was President of the Chicago World Trade Center, the Vice President of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, a faculty member and executive at UCLA, and an executive at the Ford Foundation. His publications include the book After the Cold War - American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia (Macmillan and NYU Press).