Yes, I am fairly optimistic that despite despots and kleptocrats, our democratic systems, and where they fail, moderate non-parliamentary expulsions of people from office, have the ability to deal with ongoing problems. Too little too slow — maybe, although there have been political leaders who responded to pressure by good if unpopular decisions.
FDR’s New Deal was an example for a way out of a depression created by too much reliance on Free Market, with policies creating a social sustainability. This sort of persisted until Reagan and Thatcher butchered many of these factors while demanding sacrifices only from the working class and middle class and leaving big capital in a position to grab what they could.
In the last two decades, I have seen the German governments make unpopular but intermediately necessary decisions a few times. The Schröder chancellorship made a couple of decisions which weren’t popular with their electorate, but without those Germany would have fared worse. Not all of the reforms they made proved to be beneficial in the longer run, and a few decisions have turned out problematic, but overall the results have turned out bearable. The Merkel administration has reacted to popular pressure after Fukushima to push through the departure from nuclear energy, reducing the output of nuclear waste we still have no idea how to store safely for the next million years in our densely settled country (I favor a huge sand pyramid, possibly covered with solar panels or similar, in a former coal pit mine), which did not help reduce our reliance on coal for electricity, and it did the ethically right thing when the big wave of Syrian refugees entered Europe, even if that triggered the xenophobes and racists to flock to the AfD. On the whole, Merkel has been too obsessed with remaining in power to do better, and could have handled the Greek financial crisis way better, but on the whole her administration hasn’t been much of a low point in recent German history. That means that I have some minimal faith in our democracy being able to produce at least moderately sensible politicians who may react somewhat productively in times of crisis.
We need strong incentives to invest in renewable energies, to invest in energy storage, and to invest in weather-independent production of at least basic food. (Production of organic or luxury food can and should remain in low-impact classical production.)
And we need to create these incentives now, while we still have the luxury to burn energy for that.
Any change in technology will bring social changes, too, and we will need to account for that. Democracy needs to create a higher amount of accountability.
The German constitution contains a statement which says “property brings duties” (roughly, literally “Eigentum verpflichtet”). It is about time that especially the top 1% will be encouraged to contribute their share.
A transaction tax is required to make the financial sector a productive contributor to social spending. That alone might be sufficient to make the top 1% contribute to the communal tasks.
That leaves military power. Mutually assured destruction isn’t the wisest course of action, and almost exploded in our face with the Cuba crisis. Military action needs to become too costly to achieve anything in direct confrontation. Police action against insurgents must be possible with less “collateral damage” than currently inflicted.
We need some moderate system change in our democratic society, and more incentives for the autocratic regimes around us to lighten their touch.
Overall, our resume for the last 30 years or so is fairly good, despite a lot of our failures and crimes. Abject poverty has been reduced in many parts of the world despite our capitalist imperialism. If standards of living are deteriorating in our own societies, that’s a consequence of the parasitism of the financial sector, which needs to be inversed.
Lobbyism for certain branches of industry — steel, coal, combustion engines, oil — needs to be curtailed. I think that the EU and the adjunct markets do provide an instrument for doing so, if a very clumsy one.
We will have to spend a lot of sweat and probably a certain amount of tears, but I am fairly confident that we can cut our spendings on blood better than Churchill could.
Europe is far from perfect, but it provides a laboratory of various national solutions inside a greater framework that work towards low-conflict, mutually beneficial solutions. As long as Europe proves to maintain a reasonable prosperity, it might be able to lead by example or mild capitalist imperialism. Even towards the USA.