How can we solve global problems when we can't even fix America?

I want to share an interesting chat with an old friend (an economics professor who shall remain nameless since I haven’t asked his permission to post his words):

My friend emailed me:

When are we going to start treating this planet right? It is the only one we have. On a pessimistic note, it is not clear that our democratic etc. machinery can divert the big ship we are all in, heading for the rocks.

My reply:

I’ve been singing that song for 20 years. I long thought that it was just a matter of time till people realized how serious the problems were becoming and then they’d belatedly change their ways. But as I’ve come to better understand corporate and political and human nature, I’ve realized that vested economic interests exert so much political power that we could just be doomed. Change just isn’t likely to come quickly enough. We’ve gone decades and decades without national healthcare because the insurance and medical and pharmaceutical industries want to maximize profit and bribe Washington handsomely to let them continue.

My friend replied:

So that is the political “design” issue of our time: how can we respond to challenges that are too big for any one country and its people to fix on their own?

My response:

Many people say that. But we have yet to figure out how to respond to challenges that are completely within the power of a country to tackle. Mega-corporations own the U.S. government (and governments of many nations). I think the biggest design challenge is figuring out how to break up these politically and economically dominant mega-companies and give power back to people and markets. For example, you can’t fix global warming until countries can enforce rules on mega-polluters. And you can’t help the poor, unemployed and uninsured while you’re shoveling trillions of dollars to bail out failed, bankrupt banks that are recycling the government’s largess back into the pockets of politicians as thanks for showering them with taxpayers' money.

Posted by James on Thursday, June 25, 2009