My previous musing on moral economics got me thinking about what we should aim for as a society, and I realized that this is something we haven't done in a long time: Articulate a clear picture of the nation we want, rather than just disparate lists of unconnected issues. So I'll take a stab at it, and try to create a 21st century ideal America rather than just warm over early 20th century utopias.
Basically the ideal America is a more complex and humanly grounded version of the Star Trek Federation: A democratic, increasingly post-scarcity technocracy. The physical resources for this society exist right now, but we have failed to create the grassroots political institutions out of which it would grow. If Occupy can be rebuilt and restructured as an organized body with a specific policy agenda, it can happen.
Everything begins with energy, so that is where our Ideal America must begin. The energy system would have to be:
3. Decentralized manufacturing and generation
4. Commoditized hardware
5. Free baseline grid (with "baseline" growing over time)
6. Planetary heat-neutral (via compensatory mechanisms)
To achieve the optimum spread of these qualities - particularly the third and fourth - the energy system should be overwhelmingly photovoltaic solar, with cheap, high-volume storage and transmission solutions used to cover areas that lack sufficient sunlight. The solar panels could be cheaply manufactured on site via 3D printing of circuits and cells with only raw material feedstocks purchased commercially, or else bought as high-volume, extremely-low-price commodity hardware. The heating effect on the planet of transforming more solar energy into waste heat from power usage would be compensated for with highly reflective surfaces that preserve the short wavelengths of incident sunlight and expel it through the atmosphere back into space. It should also be locally heat-neutral, so that heat islands are mitigated.
The raw material feedstocks that go into the solar energy hardware - e.g., silicon and various rare earths - should come from our own territory exclusively to avoid the destructive exporting of externalities that we experience today, ensuring that the system operates under US environmental, labor, and other regulations, and keeping the economic origin point physically closer to the end-users so that informed decisions are more practical. Moreover, the companies that mine and process these materials would pay a dividend to every US citizen for the use of those resources. Given the likely monopolistic or oligopolous nature of the industry, and its critical role in the national economy, it would be highly regulated.
The transportation system would be/have:
2. Automated / networked for optimum traffic flow and safety
3. Increasingly rapid
4. Universal free public transit in every medium: Ground, air, and water.
The first three are natural consequences of technological advancement - particularly the electrification and automation of automobiles. With networked cars that communicate at lightspeed to negotiate their own spatial relationships, you don't need speed limits - if you build a road to allow 200 mph speeds, then automated cars could safely drive them even with horrifyingly short distances between them. They would form ad hoc virtual "trains" in straight driving that would then shift and realign when a new car enters or leaves.
But the most important item is #4, and it illustrates the transportation moral of "Universal Access." It isn't just morally imperative that all people have the practical means to access the territory of their own country, but also explosively economically productive. Where would people go if everyone could go everywhere at all times? Where would they spend their money? What kind of complex social and demographic dynamics would occur? Let's find out. But just in practical terms, it means people can find and work jobs no matter where they start out from or where they can afford to live. Moreover, since you're dealing with a zero-emission transportation system fed from a totally renewable and heat-neutral energy system, there's no reason whatsoever not to do this unless one is just a terminally pious Luddite who objects to "excess" on ideological grounds.
Now, nothing is without its own form of costs, so baseline transportation options would probably involve waiting in line or having to deal with other quota- or queue-related headaches, but people would have the freedom to pick their poison and create their own balance of irritations. It would also, BTW, make the paid options less crowded and thereby add value to them while making buses, trains, air carriers etc. have to actually try to attract customers rather than charging them for the privilege of packing them in like sardines.
Politically, Ideal America in the 21st century would have "Fractalized Democracy" - basically the scaling and incorporation of democratic checks and balances into daily life, thereby putting both corporate and authoritarian state power in its place once and for all. I articulated some of these thoughts during the Occupy movement, but sadly the core of the movement was more interested in symbolic rhetoric and protesting police abuse than boldly charting a course for the future of American democracy. Hopefully it can be resurrected in a more effective and visionary form.
Essentially, the concept of Fractalized Democracy adds a direct democracy branch to government while also mirroring the existing branches into more levels of activity, so that you could have instant checks and balances rather than having to slog through years before government can do anything about corporate, police, or other abuses. In other words, the pace of checks and balances could be radically accelerated without necessarily sacrificing the longer-term deliberative functions at higher levels of government.
All the other democratic reforms and changes one could want would flow from such a system, particularly with the introduction of direct democracy into everyday life rather than just periodic referendum drives, and would turn the cause of reform from a futilely quixotic laundry list into a natural expression of the new system. So the principle drive in realizing reform would be to realize the system that would produce it naturally rather than forever trying to punch water to make an infinity of petty changes to the law and regulatory structure stick in a corrupted environment.
Returning to economics, another thing that would be ideal would be universal, free high-speed electronic communications. The fact is that the cost of these systems is primarily in their construction rather than upkeep or operation, and the only reason we're made to pay through the nose for them is because they're owned by corporate monopolies. Actual provision of any level of data throughput is trivially cheap, so it doesn't matter whether you're just texting once in a while or playing MMORPGs and FPS's on an overclocked Alienware machine - we are already in the midst of post-scarcity as far as communications is concerned, but we haven't changed our politics to reflect that fact, so we're still being reamed by corporations. As a result, whole swaths of the country aren't even offered baseline broadband internet, let alone the blinding fiber speeds other countries now have. We can change that any time we want: Universal, free gigabit connectivity is easily technically achievable and affordable. The only obstacle is politics.
We are not yet into post-scarcity with respect to water, however, so an Ideal America in the 21st century would pursue that through construction of desalination plants on the coasts and water pipelines to feed inland. Since the desalination plants and pipelines would be powered by the renewable, zero-emission, heat-neutral power grid, there's no environmental sustainability problem. And what's more, the moving of more water inland would create wetter inland weather and rain, so you could actually recoup quite a bit of even the water that isn't immediately recycled. This would be a kind of "terraforming" of the Western deserts, halting climate change-driven desertification in its tracks and reversing it while preserving and expanding farmlands. Some natural ecosystems would be lost, but you can't tiptoe around an inhabited world - sooner or later you have to choose. And it's not like every square inch of land on this planet hasn't been every kind of ecosystem at one time or another.
Socially, Ideal America would civilize and socially engineer the Southeast and Empty States, arresting their current headlong degeneration into fascist nuttery and theocracy. In other words, we need to form a more perfect Union and stop the country from flying apart at the seams as it's been. Diverse regional cultures are a source of strength, but hate, superstition, Know-Nothingism, and violent authoritarian attitudes are not a culture worth preserving - they need to be replaced. Pick out the good things that these cultures lyingly tell themselves they are and make them true for the first time ever.
Make the "cowboy" states actually care about freedom and individualism rather than just being a bunch of automatons who think identically and support fascist murderers. Make the Christer states actually behave as if they had any regard whatsoever for their choice of gods and promote peace, compassion, and cooperation rather than psychotic hate. Engineer them, in other words, into finally and sincerely joining the United States of America so that this nation isn't constantly under attack from them and their bigoted lunatic politics.
And just as a cherry on the sundae, let's colonize space. We'll do for the Moon and Mars what Britain did for much of the world, but without any indigenous victims making it ethically problematic. There wouldn't be a lot of negative reasons to leave planet Earth if we were living in this Ideal America utopia, but all the positive reasons would be more profound: People would have the time to imagine new adventures, the prosperity to pursue them, and the political freedom to collectively promote them through bold public and private ventures. We would fill the inner solar system with new cultures based on our own, some of which might fly flags based on ours in the same way many former British colonies have Union Jacks in theirs, and perhaps some of them would remain in commonwealth with the US even after becoming independent (which would be done peacefully, since this is an ideal future).