Which challenge of the 21st century is most significant and why?
In 1999 President Clinton's State of the Union Address he looked ahead to the turn of the millennium and gave the American people an important message. A new century with challenges and an uncertain future. These included a contested election, hurricane Katrina, financial meltdown, war and terrorism.
The biggest challenge we face right now, the one that will be the most important going forward, is the challenge of globalization. Globalization means that we have to find a new way for our economy to prosper. In the past, we grew strong in a post-WWII world in which we were the dominant economic power. There were good jobs available for people with little education. Now, this is no longer the case. We no longer dominate and blue collar workers have much less in the way of good jobs available to them.
This becomes a challenge both for our economy and for our society. Our society needs to figure out a way to improve our system so that more people get the education and skills they need for more lucrative jobs. Realizing that not everyone can get these, our economy needs to figure out a way to create more good jobs for blue collar workers. It also needs to figure out how to stop the fact that our society is coming to be deeply divided (perhaps because of these trends connected to globalization) between the rich and the poor (as Charles Murray has recently written about in Coming Apart).
These are the biggest challenges for the US in the new century.