If there is a phrase that Americans despise more than “social engineering,” I’m not sure I want to know about it. There is a reason, although not a good reason, for so many of us having negative feelings about social engineering: we are no longer the engineers. The things that change society are no long mostly generated by our economy. There are lots of reasons why the United States went from a driver of new ideas and technologies to an unwilling, uneducated, hostile passenger. One big reason has been the country’s unwillingness to make the obvious and, now, insanely expensive, conversion to the metric system. Another is the fact that we have always suffered from an intellectual inferiority complex. All the way back to Alex Tocqueville, in his 1835 book Democracy in America, wrote “I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.” For the most part, that has been true. Our Presidents, congress critters, governors, mayors, and other elected public servants have been, on average, sub-average men and women. When superior men do run and are elected, they are easily ridiculed for (and often defeated by) being “elites” and “eggheads. Adlai Stephenson and Barak Obama are modern examples.
Social Engineering is a given. We’re doing it, even when we are doing nothing. The range of social engineers runs from incredibly incompetent to scary good, just like real engineering. The social engineering done by the Nixon/Ford/Reagan/Bush I & II crowd was akin to a really incompetent shade tree mechanic. They systematically, but fairly ignorantly, dismantled the middle class, ripped the competence right out of the State Department, the CIA, the EPA, FCC, FDA, FDIC, SEC, and every core competency of the United States government from Washington D.C. to every state capital. Their “plan,” if you can give it that much credit, was to clear a path for their 1%’er owners to gut the nation’s wealth, wreak democracy, and restore a feudal system. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong concept. Still, it was social engineering by a bunch of idiots who wouldn’t know a slide rule from a yardstick.
Clinton’s presidential and political hero was Eisenhower, so there wasn’t much point in expecting great engineering skills from the people Clinton staffed his cabinet. Accidentally, he managed to find a few areas of competence and that’s about all it took to turn around 12 years of borrow-and-spend Republican wastefulness and hand Bush II an almost balanced budget and a diminishing national debt. The Bush II crowd couldn’t build a sandbox without assistance, and it took them no time to reverse-engineer the Reagan economic catastrophe and even go Star Wars and Grenada a good deal worse.
Engineering is manipulating the current status or technology. You can either have it done by professions who are skilled with mathematics, science, and some talent for making things happen or you can let the shade-tree idiots play with tools they don’t understand until the tree falls on them and us. There are no other alternatives.