It's a muddle.
Great things have happened, most of them without any power doing something with an explicit plan, and getting what was wanted.
Among the things that impress me are:
The French Revolution began the exit of western European Jews from their isolation, and put them on the road to intellectual and economic wealth.
Czarist anti-Semitism, especially that of Alexander III, began the flood of eastern European Jews westward, their exit from isolation, and what became the most prominent expressions of Jewish success.
World War II shook up the entire world, Jews and just about everyone else.
The vast majority of countries now clamoring in the United Nations won their independence as a result of colonial powers collapsing economically and every other way.
The Jews have arguably done the best, with Israel's creation, subsequent development and democracy, against the horror of the Holocaust and the flow of Jewish refugees from Muslim countries. What had been sizable communities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Algeria no longer exist. Those of Iran, Morocco, and Tunis are a fraction of what existed years ago.
The Chinese (including those of Taiwan and Singapore), Indians, Koreans south of the DMZ, and a few others have also done well.
Individuals from across the Third World are better off than their grandparents under colonialism. Some have moved to the First World and lost themselves in other populations.
One of their children is working in the Oval Office.
Most people in most of the places south of Italy and the Rio Grande are as bad off as their grandparents.
Jews, western Europeans, and North Americans are much different in their DNA, economic, and cultural profiles than before World War II.
The US and Canada are no longer dominated by WASP elites in politics and business. Israel's secular Jews are increasingly a mixture of what had been Europeans and Middle Easterners. Germany has become as multi-cultural as any place.
While many African Americans remain stuck in misery, the emergence of a substantial middle class and professionals reflect opportunities their ancestors could only dream of.
African-American progress, too, has something to do with World War II. The return of veterans who had been taken out of cultural isolation as well as the horrors of the war, and returned home to educational opportunities energized a civil rights movement that had been at work for a long time, but with nothing like the accomplishments in the two decades after 1945.
Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union are among the puzzles. Some see hope for parts of it. Others worry about the style of Vladimir Putin and the hopelessness of Ukraine.
Would Israel have happened without the Holocaust? Or World War II?
That begins an argument without a clear conclusion.
What unites all of this is the lack of planning and conscious implementation behind any of the great changes.
Participants in the French Revolution, Russian anti-Semites, or the people who directed World War II would be hard pressed to claim credit for what has happened as a result of their actions.
What this says about the sciences of economics, policy analysis and politics, we can only wonder.
We've learned enough about policymaking to realize that an endless array of economic, cultural, political, and personal factors enter the process to influence what is enacted. What is enacted does not assure what is implemented. And what is implemented does not guarantee the results that policymakers expected.
Events beginning elsewhere in the world, that come to affect a nation's economy or its politics are capable of having a direct affect on national welfare, as well as facilitating or frustrating whatever moves have been taken by national policymakers.
Each nation's policymaking comes about as a result of political competition. Typical results are compromises that include various provisions that complicate one another's implementation, or even work against one another.
Obamacare illustrates a prominent action created by political dealing, subject to shortfalls in implementation, and having to struggle against cultural and economic factors that limit good health.
While individuals work hard to contribute their rationality to policymaking, the ultimate results, and their effects in changing society are no more predictable than a crap shoot.
While the big pictures change as a result of who knows what, governments continue to tinker on the small stuff. They build hospitals, schools, and roads, enact programs to deal with pollution, collect statistics that show national changes, as well as international comparisons.
Statistics published by governments and non-governmental organizations, some of them with ideologies that guide what they collect, publish, and promote, provide the raw material for some to see what prior beliefs led them to see, and proclaim that they told us so. Others make an honest effort to understand what may be happening, in order to nudge things as they prefer.
Political campaigns are no more likely to move a country or the world forward, backward, or just drifting.
Politicians may not be evil, ignorant, or incompetent. It is that each speaks with a greater sense of power than he or she possesses. The world is bigger and more complex than any single country, and much bigger than almost all of them.
We vote and hope for the best, even though we shouldn't expect it to happen.
Is Benyamin Netanyahu's mixture of bluster and pragmatic moderation, along with Israel's middle-ranking power, any more likely to produce something positive than Barack Obama's mixture of bluster and pragmatic moderation, against his country's much greater power?
Are good things random?
The Book of Job was one of the early expressions of bad things happening to good people.
For many of us, lives have been much better than for those who came before us.
Why us, rather than the many more left behind?
We'll never know for sure.
Somewhere in this discussion of what's happened since World War II belongs a mention of the energy resources uncovered in non-Jewish Middle Eastern countries, how they have been used, and the quality of life, education, science, and political freedoms in those countries.
We cannot mention Islam in this connection without provoking the enforcers of the politically correct.
It would also be a gaffe in polite society to suggest that the singling out of Israel for criticism has more to do with anti-Semitism, now in ascendance after a post-Holocaust decline, than any fair assessment of how Israelis treat minorities or neighbors.