Aside from the Covid-19 pandemic, all of us baby boomers (Wayne and Woody) spent the last few months watching a series of unprecedented climate events around the world. Here in the USA there were more frequent, severe hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and on the East Coast, massive wildfires throughout the western states, unusually damaging wind storms in the mid-west, record breaking heatwaves this summer and fall, orange skies with air quality the worst in the world, extensive flooding in some parts of the country and severe drought in other sectors.
These climate events were coupled with unrelenting COVID deaths (now over 230,000 in USA) and millions of citizens infected with the pandemic in the USA. The recurrent challenges to the rule of law were accompanied by cracks in the respect and practice of law enforcement at the local, state, and national levels. All of this topped with the dramatic reminders that racism is still present in our country along with income inequality growing wider. The USA finds itself in the middle of a contentious election process where there is a real sense of economic uncertainty everywhere from our homes, family and friends to businesses, government, travel and even walking in a park or down the street.
As two baby boomers, we felt the world was not stopping long enough to capture all that is happening on a daily or even weekly basis. Personally, Wayne and his wife had to evacuate their home twice due to local fires and heatwaves. Some of our adult children and grandchildren also had to evacuate. Woody had a different set of problems due to the pandemic by having to quarantine and hibernate for weeks in his home. Children and grandchildren have to stay at home to have all their classes “virtual”, seeing and playing with friends “on-line”.
After several attempts to summarize the last few months impact on baby boomers, we decided to take another approach. What do we want the world look to like after: the fall elections, the pandemic is under control, and there is a return to the American foundations of civility, equality, and justice for all? We would recommend the following eleven fundamental policies for our society to thrive as a democracy and demonstrate the resiliency to effectively manage the economic, health, environmental, and social challenges we will face.
1.We should have a dramatically different approach to racism than what has occurred after the American Civil War. Yes, slavery was abolished back then, but now we should put an end to back sliding on social justice issues and cutting corners around the principle of equality for all. A thorough bottom up review should be put into place identifying discriminatory policies and practices. Changes should be made to our public laws, courts, elections, and government practices. Moreover, private sector policies and practices in our boardrooms, restaurants, clubs, workplaces, schools, places of worship, entertainment industries, and entire culture to eliminate racism. Efforts made that assure, examine, and put in place permanent social justice for all races, creeds, colors, LGBTQ, and immigrants.
We use the post-Civil war as an example because during the last 150 years, there has been an erosion of social justice in our laws, court rulings, and executive actions at the local, state, and federal levels.
Similarly, the private sector has eroded social justice efforts through their practices in banking, real estate, lunch counters, travel, etc. you name it. The United State has slowly re-enabled ways of discrimination for not just African Americans, but Native Americans, Italians, Jews, Latins, Asians, women, the disabled, and LGBTQ’s. We want a society and culture that abides by the principle that “all people are created equal”.
2. Climate events are real. The climate continues to change and get worse in many ways. The frequency and veracity of climate events are undeniable. The facts show more devastation from weather changes than we have ever seen on the planet. Together as a society, we must face the fact that our oceans are rising threatening our coastline and coastal cities. Our planet is getting warmer with fires destroying broad swaths of our countryside.
Hurricanes in the East and Derechos in the Midwest are more ferocious, frequent, and sequential than in the past. Once storms and fires were common, but are now more frequent and destructive
We must set standards that protect: our farms and food; our oceans, rivers, and lakes: our cities, suburbs, and forests: our water, air, and the earth we walk on. We cannot leave the next generations to ask what the baby boomers were doing while all this natural destruction was happening. We want the next generations to thank us for taking the necessary actions to save the earth, air, and water. There are national and international experts that know what needs to be done. There are most global governments, entrepreneurs, and private sector businesses that are willing to work together. The goal is to change the way we humans are destroying our planet. There are a lot of opportunities in what can be done. Actions that can build our economy in ways that sustain our precious resources, improve our standards of living, and leave a livable planet.
3. Universal health care is finally a basic principle for democratic societies. The founders of this country recognized early that universal education was a cornerstone in a democracy, such that educated citizens were central for a body politic to vote and fully participate. Health is another of those basic principles, a healthy electorate is a voting electorate, a voting electorate assures that the voice and will of the people can be heard and is a guard against autocracy. When Wayne was in high school the national debating topic was “Should the United States have national health care”. At the time there was controversy about this topic, many of the doctors through their national association the American Medical Association (AMA) were opposed, now today the AMA is in favor.
Way back when most of the first world nations were creating national systems that guaranteed their citizens health care. It came in different forms, but the principle was put in place as law. The United States has taken steps to move toward universal health care, but now is the time to break through the remaining barriers and enact a national standard for access to health care for all. Baby boomers now have health care for all people our age through Medicare. We will still have health care expenses, but we are not faced with dramatic and exorbitant health care costs that will bankrupt us. This basic health care coverage is a significant financial and emotional relief that should be available to all our citizens. In these times when pandemics are happening more frequently, all our citizens should have available health care that prevents and treats diseases. We can do this. We should do this! The time has come to assure a healthy population for our democracy.
4. We need a clear path out of the current pandemic, concrete plans to prevent future pandemics, and specific methods to minimize the impact of future pandemics. In addition to some of the basic public health advice (social distancing, face coverage, washing hands, testing, tracing, etc.) already developed and implemented, we also should remind our citizens and leaders that cooperation and credibility are essential components of curbing and controlling a disease like COVID. This path can reach its destination when citizens accept both their personal responsibility and social responsibility to their fellow citizens by comply with necessary public health policies in a pandemic.
Clearly this is a two-way street. Leaders have to communicate frankly; build trust before there is another pandemic; set an example for the right behavior that reduces contagion; and follow the scientific community advice and direction. The successful societies that have minimized the impact of the current Covid pandemic have citizens that respect their leaders due to confidence that the leaders tell the truth, have concern for all citizens welfare, and listen to the experts. If we get back to a culture of responsible citizenry, transparency, and science-based governments, then pandemics can be effectively controlled as well as their consequences minimized.
Physical and Emotional Wellbeing
5. We also can have a healthy society if we promote physical and emotional health. In all our activities, whether it is the food we eat, the attitudes we express, the beliefs we hold, setting high standards for caring for our body and minds are foundations for a successful and prosperous country. Caring for our health is not just the job for doctors, nurses, and hospitals but also our physical and emotional health is the job of our grocery stores, our local zoning and planning, and our businesses, schools, and governmental policies. These physical and emotional health actions that we are talking about no longer can separate our brains and emotions from our flesh and bones.
There is a growing recognition that emotional health strongly impacts physical health and vice versa. So, when we have a stressful day or a traumatic event, our physical health, eating, drinking, and interaction with others can produce increased health consequences. A new standard is to recognize and acknowledge that emotional and physical wellbeing go hand in hand such that all policies need to consider the wellbeing of all the citizens in our communities. Baby boomers especially are impacted by separating the mind from the body, often in very insidious ways. There are those who cannot do things physically because of their health but their minds are “sharp as tacks”. There are others who are “fit as a fiddle” but cannot find their car keys or even worse, their way home from the grocery store. Assisting the whole person as we age will produce a generation that can thrive and remain resilient, albeit a little “slower on the uptake”.
6. There is no better lesson than the COVID-19 pandemic to show how economic policies can impact the course of this and any other pandemics. Let’s draw this picture for you as those most impacted by the pandemic are disproportionately people over 60 years old. Also over represented are people of color, whether in the essential services industries, bus drivers, check-out clerks, waitresses, health professionals, first responders, and others that have to continue to be exposed to the virus and possibly transmit it to others. Some countries have taken an amazingly simple action, they have guaranteed revenue streams for individuals in the form of incomes and loans for the places they work for. These industries and institutions impacted include the local governments, the school systems, the courts, the hospital systems, as well as the small businesses, and the employees.
If the workers are symptomatic, they are paid while they quarantine themselves, so they do not spread the disease, if they exist on pay check to paycheck then they are covered and can without too much stress continue to work but not if they are sick. Initially in this country we tried some form of relief but with the notion that this Pandemic would be over quickly, instead of realizing it would not. Today the federal government has stopped the payments, we are now in a second and third wave of the pandemic, and people are choosing between their physical or financial wellbeing. We need to turn our economic priorities right side up, money, paychecks, business loans, government subsidies are part of the treatment strategy for reducing the economic and health consequences of this pandemic.
There is an excellent treatise on where the money will come from in a book by the economist Stephanie Kelton entitled “The Deficit Myth”. Briefly she demonstrates that the federal government by prioritizing spending federal resources on human outcomes rather than budget outcomes will keep the economy thriving so we can navigate our way out of the financial disaster caused by this and future pandemics. In our next blog Woody will elaborate on the total change of “economics” now called Circular Economics which was created and enacted as Circular Economics in the EU. Please see Woody’s papers Circular economics and Sustainability and his forthcoming book on Circular Economics due to be published in early 2021. The Pandemic has shown us that we should not place our citizens in the position of choosing between their livelihood and their life.
Elections and Finances
7. We would like to see a different way of financing elections, get big money out of it, create a level playing field. Many baby boomers remember a time when there were election periods with advertising in the form of posters, billboards, but over the last four decades there has been a financial tsunami in marketing of issues and candidates. Our parents were in the advertising business, so we have nothing against marketing products and honest attempts to persuade people through letting them know what the product is. Today we are confronted with a not so subtle attempt to misstate the truth over exaggerate the benefits or understate the consequences of an issue or candidate.
This ability to shape public opinion has been dramatically influenced by allowing mega bucks to be part of the equation. Legislators complain that they must spend most of their time raising money, billionaires can donate hundreds of millions to an issue or a candidate significantly influencing the outcome of an election. Our democracy is based on citizens having their say about an issue or candidate by exercising their right to vote. We need to level the playing field of our voting system, getting money out of playing such a significant role in the USA election plus being a clear way to returning our sense of democratic government. There is also the issue of facts and how to present the truth correctly and accurately. This problem does not need a “truth police”, but does need to be governmental and private sector examination of the ethical standards needed for our democratic process to be based on the best, most accurate evidence, and science.
8. Today in our society there is still an obscene divide between the rich and poor. Yes, part of the American dream is the story of rags to riches. We are all pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is part of our national mythology. There are many examples of successes in achieving the American Dream. This dream has an emphasis today on entrepreneurship as a legitimate continuation of keeping the American dream. But the chasm has grown too wide between the extraordinarily rich or top 1-5 % and the rest of our society. This gap leaves too many behind, without opportunity. We must do something about it.
There are many suggestions for the way income inequality can be changed. There needs to a goal such as returning to the 1950’s approach to taxing of wealth based on highest worth to be the highest taxed. Then the need to invest in postsecondary education and lifelong learning so that everybody has a path to education and innovation throughout the lifespan. Change banking and loan practices can easily benefit those with less resources. Invest in our infrastructure so that USA companies performing work on American soil by American workers can provide decent wages for employees, as well as improve our bridges, roads, buildings, and parks. There are many more ways to reduce the divide between rich and poor. These ways that do not abandon the American dream, just ways to make it more accessible for all Americans.
Civility and Compromise
9. Return to civility and compromise, we first noticed a difference in the decorum of the national political dialogue when during a State of the Union address to Congress a congressional member shouted out to interrupt a President’s speech. Politics in the twentieth century had several previous examples of a change in the national dialogue. The McCarthy era with its persecution by asking “have you now or ever have been a communist sympathizer”. The assassinations and civil unrest in the 60’s all had a provided a glimpse of how the American way of civility and compromise could be dashed on the floor of national discourse gone awry.
Basic principles of decorum, listening to others, respecting each other, and rolling up our sleeves to resolve problems together all need to resurface for our democracy to remain civil. This level of civility will need times of compromise, but not compromise that jeopardizes our democratic principles as presented thus far. Instead the need for compromise where both parties give and take, yet do not abandon their principles so that they can find common grounds in which to live, work, educate, travel and more.
Legal System reform
10. A bottom up recommitment to the rule of law and assuring the highest of standards for our local. State and national judicial, criminal justice, legislative, and executive systems of government. This should be a vertical rethinking from the local level of how our police perform. Starting with why the police need instead education and support. Police prosecute and defend but needed to be in fairness and evenly for all. Then we all can become “judges” for all our citizens with the same standards.
At the state and federal level, we need to re-examine how we select our juries and our justices, so that that they and us do legislation efficiently and effectively. Then when wrongdoing is uncovered the investigation assures our juristically system adjudicates fairly. These areas all need re-examining. There are many in the legal and advocacy fields that could bring their expertise to the table and propose reforms. Everyone needs social interactionism with local police, judge, district attorney, public defender, corporate lawyer, a defense attorney, a legislator, mayor, governor, congressman, senator, or career civil servant. And then the state and national levels need to be included.
11. We strongly advocate that we use the knowledge, skills and abilities of scientists and experts to solve problems. Of course, this expertise should be balanced by the citizens opportunity to understand, review and vote on policies and candidates. Yes, there are areas where the genius of science can lead us out of significant problems, such as research on Modern Monetary theory, Climate Change, social justice, pandemics, emotional and physical wellbeing. All of these areas of concern and more have experts that can provide frameworks for detailed plans. The goal being to return to the meaning of America as a democracy by demonstrating the rule of law, and being a leader of the world in saving the planet. ______________________________