The Challenges We Face

Alan Zendell, September 30, 2022

The phrase, “When it rains, it pours,” is usually a reference to problems piling on top of each other. Not to strain the metaphor too much, depending on what those problems are, they can lead to a perfect storm of loss and devastation. The United States and the rest of the world appear to be facing that possibility now. Wherever you look – world affairs, the changing climate, the global economy, or politics – the signs are potentially ominous.

The most immediate concern is Vladimir Putin’s escalation of his war in Ukraine. It’s the perfect subject for all those highly paid talking heads. If it turns out Putin was bluffing, they’ll all note that somewhere in their scholarly analyses of possibilities was a warning that he might be. And if he isn’t, we may all be too irradiated to care. One of the primary rules of game theory is that when the consequences of a negative outcome are catastrophic, the likelihood of that outcome is virtually irrelevant – it must be avoided at all costs.

The worst-case outcome from climate change is less severe than a nuclear war, but it’s likelihood is higher. An objective observer might conclude that with a longer planning horizon and the tools to mitigate the worst outcomes at our disposal, governments at all levels, everywhere should be mobilizing to protect our future, but like many rational conclusions, that one has been a victim of partisan politics and greedy self-interests until now. There’s an impressive body of evidence that storms like Hurricane Ian, that caused billions of dollars and cost lives all over Florida, and the unprecedented heat waves of last summer can be laid directly at the feet of climate change. Will that change anyone’s mind?

We see the same counterproductive forces at work when we examine local, domestic, and world economies. Every economy was dealt a severe blow by the COVID pandemic, which also showed us the folly of moving most of our manufacturing off shore to countries where labor and materials are cheaper. The energy crunch caused by Putin’s extortion of Russia’s oil and natural gas customers, combined with supply chain problems and climate-induced crop failures spiked inflation and have most economists seriously worried about the future. Less than a month into its new government’s tenure, the UK’s economy is teetering on the edge. These problems are visible and solvable if we set our minds to them without distractions.

Finally, we must deal with our political crises, which in some ways are the polar opposite of our more immediate crises. Political challenges are a little like icebergs. We only see them from the angles the spin doctors want us to, with their most dangerous implications hidden beneath the surface. Given all the other problems we face, political leaders have a choice. They can either work together for the common good to avoid disaster, or they can take advantage of desperate circumstances to work their own priorities.

While extremists among the Democrats managed to negotiate their differences and eke out a few legislative victories that will benefit millions of Americans, the civil war within the Republican Party rages on with no end in sight. Thus, we have the spectacle of Mitch McConnell looking like a reasonable establishment conservative while the Trumpers would rather tear everything down than not get their way. The latest example of this is the upcoming annual fight over raising the federal debt ceiling.

Hate him or love him, McConnell at least understands that shutting down the government over providing funding to implement laws that have already been passed and signed would be tantamount to a ship captain tossing his crew overboard in stormy seas without life preservers. McConnell made sure the debt ceiling deadlline was delayed until after the midterm elections, but the Trumpers couldn’t care less as long as they are able to scuttle everything the Biden administration has accomplished.

The past thirty-two months have been difficult. Millions lost their lives or their health and vitality. Many millions more lost jobs or family members. People are understandably weary, but that’s no excuse to disengage from reality. If we don’t remain involved, we will lose control of our future. We could wake up one day and realize that all the freedoms we thought we had are gone. We could find ourselves slipping into a serious economic decline which might also be the tipping point for failing to solve our other problems.

When money gets tight, who’s going to be willing to keep spending billions helping Ukraine or building wind farms that can assure our future energy independence without destroying our planet? Who will have the time and resources to protect us from those who would undermine our Constitution for their own profit? When the perfect storm materializes, all our separate problems coalesce into a single massive threat with tentacles that can reach into every part of our lives.

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