When I first moved to the U.S. twenty years ago, what excited me most was the all pervasive “can do” attitude, suggesting anything was possible if we put our minds to it. Seemingly crazy ideas would be taken seriously if the upside could be proven.
It pains me that we seem to have temporarily lost the ability to imagine and execute collectively in the public realm, and that we seem to hold on to the entrenched status quo like those gipping the railings of the Titanic as the great ship went down. In this context I’m prompted to offer up five seemingly impossible ideas for change, which if implemented could just change everything!
1. A law compelling elected citizens to serve a single term in Congress
We compel our citizens to do jury duty, so why not require selected individuals to serve a single term in Congress? It was Douglas Adams the English humorist that said, “anyone capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job”. At a time when Congresses approval rating stands at nine percent, these words were never more pertinent. We have extraordinary individuals in this country in both the public and the private sector that would choose to serve, but are put off by the seedy self-serving gridlock of modern day politics.
The technology exists to allow us to both select and elect the best and the brightest to serve in Congress, after all we manage do it with American Idol! And if this seems like a futuristic fantasy, consider that the premise largely mirrors what the Founding Fathers originally envisioned when they established term limits.
How would you like Senator Buffett guiding fiscal policy, or Senator Gates driving technology related commerce, or how about Senator Winfrey in charge of social services?
2. A high speed rail network spanning the East and West coasts
One thing we can all agree on is that air travel today has become a “Hogarthian nightmare”. If the uniquely dysfunctional European parliament can find the political will and necessary alignment to build a high-speed rail network spanning multiple countries, then so can we spanning the East and West coasts of the United States.
What if you could travel from Atlanta to New York in six hours, or DC to Boston in three hours? The process of boarding would be seamless with minimal security checks, there would be no weather or mechanical delays, you’d be sitting in relative spacious comfort and able work with high-speed wireless capability, or would you still rather endure the present dehumanizing airport experience?
Is this really impossible, just because the airline industry spends a bunch of money on K Street? What’s required is the kind of public-private partnership that Teddy Roosevelt championed.
Federal and State Government build the rail network and fuel jobs in the process, while private companies bid to run services on the routes, spending a portion of the massive capitol they are currently sitting on. I’d jump on the “Apple Express” from NYC to Raleigh in a heartbeat, rather than suffer another moment at La Guardia!
It’s the ultimate win-win. We enhance public infrastructure, make doing business more efficient, generate profits for private companies, lower our carbon footprint, and make travelling around this great country more pleasurable for current and future citizens. All that and the sense of national pride in having taken on and completed something of this scale cannot be understated.
3. Legislation penalizing religious extremism
We already have the separation of church and state build into the constitution, something the Founding Fathers had the vision to instigate. In essence they were prepared to address head on the political taboo that is religion freedom, even given the challenges and sensitivities involved in doing so.
Religious extremism from all denominations is a source of discord, division and violence that we are afraid to debate, let alone act against for fear of appearing intolerant. A valid question is how would you create legislation that is able to define what we mean by religious extremism! Difficult I’ll grant you but here is a suggested starting point.
Religious beliefs and practices that advocate violence, force a minor into marriage, that tolerate gender or racial exploitation, or that preach hatred and bigotry would be outlawed! Draconian, not really when you consider we already have laws on the books banning these practices when they aren’t conducted under the banner of religious freedom. And as recently as 2009 we managed to enact a hate-crime bill, which was signed into law by President Obama so perhaps the underlying will does exist.
4. A movement to “half-size” food portions
By any measure we are experiencing an obesity epidemic in the U.S. The next generation will be the first whose life expectancy is predicted to be shorter than the previous, with obesity related heart disease, diabetes and cancer as the leading causes of death. To share one related anecdote, I was on a plane recently that was unable to take off because the cabin crew had run out of seat belt extensions!
If that wasn’t enough in itself, per a 2012 NPR report, it’s estimated that forty percent of the food in America today goes uneaten. In effect we are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion worth of food each year, a chilling and immoral statistic in a world where 842 million people don’t have enough food to eat, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
Diets are not the solution in fact they are part of the problem. It’s estimated that only five percent of people who lose weight on a crash diet will be able to keep it off. The problem isn’t so much what we eat, but rather how much!
So how can we compel corporations to moderate their portion sizes? Don’t tell me it’s impossible to moderate consumption. We did it with cigarettes by placing effective warnings, in tandem with a national awareness campaign. It simply requires the will to do the same with obesity.
Corporations that advocate portion control could receive economic incentives, while those that encourage eating to excess would be penalized accordingly. And it’s good business, as those companies that are seen to be active in the fight against obesity would undoubtedly see a rise in profits from a combination of fewer raw materials, as well as heightened consumer advocacy.
This is not impossible to solve, and really, what could be more necessary.
5. A ten-year “opt out” clause on first marriages
Okay so this last one is a little tongue in check but think about it for a moment. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce creating economic and emotional upheaval for parents and children alike.
Imagine if you knew that after ten years you could simply leave the marriage by law without a lawyer, without acrimony, and based on the terms established under a universal prenuptial agreement. It could go some way to limiting the economic and emotional turmoil involved, and might perhaps encourage some couples to wait it out for the ten-year period to elapse, and in the process discover that they were able to repair their relationship.
Why should this only apply to first marriages, when after all the divorce rate on second and third marriages is even higher than on first marriages? Well after one failed marriage you should have learned something, and be going into your second marriage with eyes wide open! If you chose to remarry well that ones on you, and after all divorce lawyers need to make a living too!
Of all these impossible ideas, this one would probably be the hardest to implement, as forty one percent of the current members of Congress are lawyers.
So all of this is fun to think about but sheer fantasy right! But think about it for a second, in one foul swoop we’d put the most talented individuals in government, dramatically limit our carbon footprint, eradicate the leading cause of division across all religious denominations, tackle our obesity epidemic, slash our burgeoning health care bill, and allow numerous people to walk away from their marriages without the pain and expense currently inflicted on their families.
Ask yourself whether all this is really impossible, or whether we’ve simply lost the ability to think and act against the status quo.