5 Questions, 5 Integrated Issues
Sunday, April 15, 2007 I attended the Music Center Speaker Series in Los Angeles. President Bill Clinton spoke for two hours and I found his speech engaging. It provided both a framework for approaching strategy and an overview of a former president’s assessment of our world. This is my summary of his speech.
We need to ask 5 Questions
- What is the fundamental theme of the time in which we live?
- How is the world doing, well or poorly?
- How do we want to see the world change; where do we want to go?
- What needs to be done in order to implement that change; how do we get there?
- Who needs to do the work that will make change happen?
Mr. Clinton suggested that interdependency is the fundamental theme of our current age. Decisions and actions taken in one part of the world have impacts globally, whether decisions to pollute or to act offensively in war. Due to the interdependency of these decisions, few choices can be made alone and few actions can have the desired outcome unless supported by the necessary interactions.
This theme struck a cord with me as a Systems Engineering by discipline. Systems Engineering is about acknowledging interactions of the pieces in a system (think of electronics, motor, and auto body interacting to result in a car) and balancing the design of those components to produce the best overall system. Perhaps the tools that I have learned as a systems engineer can be applied to our socioeconomic systems in addition to mechanical ones? You can read more about systems engineering at Wikipedia.
Once he had established interdependency as the theme of the contemporary age, Mr. Clinton went on to outline 5 interdependent issues that he feels exemplify opportunities for the United States to lead global change. He also suggested a vision of where we as a country, and a world, might want to go in the future.
The 5 Issues
- Air quality
- Health care
- The income disparity gap
- The United States’ role as a foreign policy leader
Mr. Clinton spoke about the need to address air quality here at home in the United States and encouraged California to support state initiatives in this area. He spoke about the linkage between air quality and health care, highlighting that health care coverage has fallen 4% while the number of people employed in the health insurance sector has increased 16%; one third of health care costs being administrative. Health care was linked to the income disparity gap and the difficulty that US companies face in competing globally. Our inflated health care costs translate to higher overhead rates in American products. Mr. Clinton’s example: $15,000 of every GM car pays for health care compared to $100 of every Toyota.
Air quality was also linked to energy usage patterns and costs. The obvious linkage is between gasoline engines and pollution from automobiles. Yet Mr. Clinton extended this linkage by pointing out that, while we do have alternatives to gasoline for transportation available today, we lack alternatives to the many products and plastics that are made from oil. The real incentive for transitioning away from our dependence on oil for transportation is to ensure the availability of these other necessary products.
Lastly, Mr. Clinton highlighted the need for the US to reclaim its role as a foreign policy leader. He noted that the role of government is both security and diplomacy and suggested that our government has we need to return to a healthier balance between these responsibilities.