Saturday, February 5, 2011

What I'd Say to the United Nations

If I were to give a talk to the United Nations in light of the coming regime change in Egypt, here is what I would say:

The lack of well-paying jobs, especially in countries that are subject to political and religious extremism, for example, Egypt, will result in continued increases in terrorism.

Those increases will engender ever greater risk of worldwide cataclysm as weapons of mass destruction become ever more miniaturized.

Think, for example, what would happen if a terrorist released a vial of highly communicable deadly smallpox in an international airport check-in area. (That's before the TSA screening.) Or a terrorist in one of the millions of trucks that visit crowded downtowns detonated a suitcase- or larger nuclear or radiologic device.

The solutions are:
1. We must talk with terrorist organizations. Engagement has a better risk/reward ratio than vilification. More important,
2. We must be far smarter in how we spend our money. We currently spend fortunes far in excess of their likely benefit on, for example, military adventurism, stopping airline shoe bombers, space exploration, politically popular social programs known not to work, and dubious schemes to try to cool the planet.

We must redirect that spending to efforts far more likely to improve humankind, for example:
  • teaching entrepreneurship (the key to creating jobs)
  • encouraging an Assistance Army, in which people are encouraged to hire assistants: new-parent helpers, parenting coaches, homework helpers, personal assistants, companions for the elderly, etc.
  • decreasing people's belief in materialism. There will no doubt be times when there are not enough well-paying jobs to go around. People need to realize that materialism, even the holding of private property, is not key to the life well-led. In the end, kindness, productivity, and simple pleasures are more central.
  • the primacy of ethics. Regarding the latter, everyone must be taught again and again, through adults' actions as well as their words, that all of us must consider, before undertaking any action, what's best, not just for us, but for humankind.
Even as I write this, I worry that perhaps I'm overestimating the potential for the full range of humankind to behave according to universal wisdom. After all, I must admit that typically, my behavior is altruistic only as long as it doesn't hurt me. Too often, I forgo the unpleasant altruistic act. Occasionally, my behavior is even mildly malevolent, as when I sneer at a driver who's driving only at the speed limit unlike my usual 10 mph over.

But I prefer to err on the side of optimism. So I would like to close by stipulating to my proposed solutions being very difficult to implement although perhaps not as difficult as the effort to cool the planet. But I believe the results, even if imperfect, would do more to improve the lives of humankind than anything else, yes, anything else. Certainly, my plan is far better than what we're currently doing. Should we begin?


K-Man said...

Marty, you seem to have fallen into the lefty tendency of condemning the supposedly high amount we spend on space exploration. Maybe it was meant as a throwaway line, but this thinking makes me dispair for our present and future.

You have received your wish. The space shuttle program ends this year, 2011, and President Obama single-handedly killed its planned replacement system last year even though hardware was being built and rocket test flights had already begun. The US will effectively have no manned spaceflight program and will have to pay for our astronauts to ride aboard Russian Soyuz craft to the space station.

For the record, in approximate dollars, from the annual federal budget:

1. NASA, $19 billion

2. Medicare for senior citizens who couldn't be bothered to save money for their medical care for their old age, $500 billion

3. Social Security for senior citizens who couldn't be bothered to save money for their retirement, $700 billion

4. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), replacement for "welfare as we knew it" as a reward system for bastardy, $20 billion (higher than NASA)

5. Medicaid for irresponsible single parents (bastardy again) and senior citizens whose families gamed the system for nursing home expenses, $300 billion

6. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including Section 8 (welfare) housing expenses, $47 billion

Nos. 2–6 represent over $1.5 trillion in expenditure for which we have little positive to show, but much that is negative.

You can make the argument that at least workers contribute to Social Security and Medicare, but until the mid-'00s, most retirees got everything they paid into those systems back within three years of retiring. Some, like my late grandparents, got back from Social Security, Medicare, and later Medicaid not only everything they paid in, but more than their entire lifetime earnings as (in my grandparents' case) low-paid farm help.

Medicare has historically been quite open about the reality that recipients' monthly payments after retirement pay only about a quarter of the total health care cost to the program. The rest of us foot the bills.

Our space program in general and NASA in particular represent a (mostly) positive view of the future, one in which all of humanity should participate as we develop the ability to reach for the cosmos. Contrast that with military spending, which is geared around negative assumptions about adversaries and war including "surviving" global nuclear holocaust. The space program also had employed many engineers, scientists, and high-tech workers in the US in an era when many of those jobs have been forever lost overseas. Indeed, most of the NASA budget went toward salaries and research, not to running the shuttle program, which typically cost only $2 billion–$3 billion annually in recent years.

Layoffs among space employees at Cape Canaveral have already begun, and the betting is that those jobs aren't coming back. Somebody will one day be mining the moon and asteroids, developing new inventions from space technology, and setting up energy generation sources for Earth in space; but that somebody will probably not be American, nor will these efforts benefit American citizens.

I sincerely hope this makes you happy. And please ponder that much of your tax burden goes to support the irresponsible. The United Nations will, if anything, make that problem worse, as it has often pushed proposals to redistribute wealth from wealthy countries to poor countries, many of whose residents show the same lack of work ethic as do welfare recipients of all ages here.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, K-Man for your excellent comment. You've contributed richly to the conversation.


Dave said...

The UN is a toothless gabfest of Third World crackpots. And talking to terrorists and giving them jobs won't bring peace, especially to peoples in backwater societies that subscribe to illiberal, intolerant creeds (eg. Islam). It's a clash of civilizations.

Anonymous said...

You tell'em Marty!

I wonder why no one else has ever thought of trying to talk to terrorists--why, they're people too! Surely if we just explained to them that they needed better-paying jobs and, yet, a non-materialistic lifestyle, certainly they would put down their suicide bomb vests and, no doubt, immediately engage you as their job-coach!

And yes, let’s inculcate people from childhood on with the idea that we as citizens of the world must do what’s best for the people of the world! Because, once again, we all agree on what that is, right?

And I too am trying not to sneer at people who drive the speed limit—can world peace be far behind when speeders stop sneering at non-speeders?

I am glad the world works so simply. Especially since we all agree on what "universal wisdom" is, right?

Can’t imagine why the UN hasn’t called you yet.

Seraphim said...

Marty, don't you see that your ethical interventionism is ultimately the same thing that drives our "military adventurism"? We want everyone else in the world to be like us. We wish they would just "get along" (=do things the ethical and rational way, =OUR way).

If you actually DID talk to the terrorists, and ask them why they do what they do, you'll find that they generally just want us to stop intervening in their own affairs, ostensibly to "help" them but really to either remake them in our own image or to profit from them. They want us to leave them alone.

Maybe we should try it.

We ostensibly believe in the self-determination of individuals and nations. Why don't we practice what we preach? Instead, we say "We're going to FORCE you to adopt self-determination for your nation, and if it isn't as self-determining as we'd like it to be, we're going to stay here until you get it right!" I'm really not sure how your proposal is substantively different.

F.S. said...

I was driving during your program yesterday so I couldn't call in. Thinking about the Service Army got me into a Catch-22: people are reluctant to let strangers into their homes, so some sort of objective bonding or licensing agency is probably called for. But that's more bureaucracy. Also, the paperwork/tax burden for independent contractors is tough, so perhaps these people could be employed by an agency, but then somebody's taking a cut. Anyway, I get bogged down in the implementation details, but I love the overall idea and have encouraged something similar to unemployed friends.

Marty Nemko said...

The best way is for there to be choices: some people will hire their own, others will use agencies, which will create more jobs.

Marty Nemko said...

Dave, I too have heard bad things about the U.N. but don't know enough about it to write it off. Do you?

And just because it may currently be relatively ineffectual, doesn't mean it will always be. We must never give up on the idea of an organization, in which a leader of every nation meets together to try to solve world problems. There are few loftier goals. We must not dismiss it; we must try to improve it.

Marty Nemko said...

Ethics are not uniquely American. I'm convinced that even many terrorists, in their way, believe they are being ethical. I'm not saying spend billions on talking with them. I'm not saying we capitulate to them. I'm saying that the risk/reward ratio of talking to them is better than the risk/reward ratio of vilifying them.