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Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Future by Al Gore

I'm usually reluctant to read political documents, but this was chosen for our reading club so I decided to slog through it.  It's often interesting although I felt sometimes that he was just summarizing each of the myriad of research articles pulled together by his research assistants in some kind of coherent fashion.

There's no way in hell I could summarize everything in less than 50 pages but I've got some general comments below.  It's a good book to use from the index, i.e., want to see about a certain issue, hit the index and then read the few pages devoted to that topic.


Positives: 
  1. Very good at capturing generational angst by which I mean that each generation seems to have some issue of apocalyptic concern that MUST be solved or the world will come to an end. Depending where (when) you live (d) that concern may be different but it's always there and is of overwhelming importance to those concerned.
  2. Great summary of much of the information out there and the issues. See my comments re the index above.
  3. Nifty bibliography.  A great resource.
  4. Good summary of conflicts on page 124
  5. Retired people are a huge problem.  (Full disclosure:  I'm retired)  This is a point I make to my colleagues and students.  It takes 4.2 workers between the ages of 16 and 60 to provide enough tax revenue to support one retired person.  That means lots of jobs to be created or lots of retired people to die off.  Or lots of immigrants.
  6. Very good summary of the problems in the financial industry 
Negatives:
  1. Ignored the role of religion and religious extremism.  Religion is barely mentioned yet it's a major source of conflict which has the more immediate potential to cause a lot of grief.
  2. Too US-centric, i.e. U.S. as moral force that needs to enforce that morality.  If corporations are too multi-national how do you effect change in other countries. I just don't buy the idea that the United States has to be the moral (read military) savior of the planet.  Gore does and states so explicitly.
  3. Is it fair to deprive developing countries of the opportunity to become wealthier?  We set a certain standard which we need them to emulate in order to consume more goods and then tell them they can't because it's bad for the planet.
  4. Again, the favorite whipping boy is corporations.  It's all their fault.  Everything.  And this person business, yet as a lawyer he should have known the idea of corporations having "personhood" status is a very old one.i.e., “Since at least Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward – 17 U.S. 518 (1819), the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and to enforce contracts.”  That also increases their liability. “The basis for allowing corporations to assert protection under the U.S. Constitution is that they are organizations of people, and the people should not be deprived of their constitutional rights when they act collectively. (see the excellent Wikipedia entry for more.) In this view, treating corporations as "persons" is a convenient legal fiction which allows corporations to sue and to be sued, provides a single entity for easier taxation and regulation, simplifies complex transactions that would otherwise involve, in the case of large corporations, thousands of people, and protects the individual rights of the shareholders as well as the right of association.  A larger issue is that all of us who have, or want to have, a pension, MUST support the success of these corporations since pension funds are their biggest investors.   Gore should know better.  He sits on Apple's board.
  5. Ignores the failure of the legislative. The Supreme Court gets blamed for everything yet they are forced into this position because the legislative branch has completely abrogated its responsibility.  Money in politics, which Gore handles nicely, is a big problem. He has few solutions of merit, however.
  6. Solutions all require an authoritarian form of government.
  7. Emphasis on “reason-based” thinking when what we are learning is that to make change one has to appeal to the emotional side
  8. He has a tendency to celebrate the technological and then focus on the problems of technology which leaves the reader unclear as to what he’s demanding.
  9. No discussion of nuclear which is totally carbon-free.  Reliance on solar and wind ignore storage issues.  Energy experts say that as long as the storage issue remains unsolved, you have to build double the capacity if you build a lot of renewables so the grid remains stable.  New nuclear technology such as low-pressure liquid sodium reactors hold a lot of promise.
  10. Ignores conservation and impact on standard of living, i.e. reduced consumption. 
General Issues:
  1. Gore serves on several corporate boards including Apple – what’s his responsibility as an individual in the seats of power.
  2. He’s a multi-millionaire. Gore got rich off his sale of the network: $100 million.
  3. Rich v poor – when has it ever not been so? Solutions are a bit simplistic: Lots of ideas collected by his research assistants, but  ultimately I found his book very unsatisfying - lacks a sense of history and  assumes that problems he sees are unique to current generation
  4. How do you define and accomplish goals in a democracy where self-interest is the highest value?
  5. Does apocalypticism bring benefits or just ignoring the problem.
  6. How do you determine what’s an opportunity vs a negative? 
I couldn't help thinking if things would have been different had he been elected in 2000.  It's unlikely he would have invaded Iraq, but he surely would have caved to pressure to invade Afghanistan.  And how would he have handled Libya, Egypt, Israel, Syria, et al. The pressure on Democrats to use military might is always irresistible.  I have a sneaky suspicion that we would be in precisely the same place we are today.  That's discouraging.

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