I haven't been posting very much lately because, and this is an admission against interest, I haven't had a lot to say. It surely won't surprise you to learn that I've reached a point of despair about our collective ability to tackle the very real problems that the present and the all-too-near future are going to present.
I read most everything I can get my hands on and am fairly current on the major pronouncements on the issues of the day by the West's great political figures, and what I've been reading lately has driven me to gloom.
What passes for political discourse in the West right now, and especially in my own United States, is pitiful stuff. It's not even remotely relevant to the real issues that face us.
And then I stumbled across a long, cool drink of water in the form of Newt Gingrich.
Like most US conservatives, I like Newt. Liked him as a Republican leader, liked him as a Speaker, never thought much of the various allegations thrown at him. But, also like most US conservatives, I also thought of Gingrich as a bit of a crank. Always going on about management theory and third (or was it fourth?) waves. A solid guy, but not the kind of guy you necessarily want leading the team.
How wrong I was.
What follows is a speech Gingrich gave in October of this year at Johns Hopkins University. Read it and see if you do not agree with me that this speech hits you right between the eyes with the thought: "Finally! Someone is talking about the goddamn issues and getting it right!"
Here is the text of the speech. It's long, but well worth it:
I'm glad to be here. And I want to throw a couple of fairly big ideas out and then really go to questions and give you a chance to talk about anything you'd like to, but let me start with this proposition, which I think particularly fits people who are currently in college or at a point were they're thinking about their future, whether they're in college or doing other things.
I believe we are entering a period when the collective challenges will be the largest that they have been since Abraham Lincoln in 1861 called for 75,000 volunteers for 90 days. If you go back and look at that period, no one in April of 1861 had any idea that the Civil War would lead to the scale of difficulty that it did. Imagine they thought that there would be a brief moment of tension, that people would argue, that the government would prove it was serious by calling up 75,000 volunteers, they would have a nice conversation, and they'd be done.
Four years later 620,000 Americans had been killed. More than in all of our other wars combined. The United States had built a trans-continental railroad to the Pacific to keep California in the Union. We had run out of gold and had to issue paper money called Greenbacks which we still use 'til this day. And they ran out of volunteers in 1863 and had to go to a draft, in response to the draft the riots in New York City were so great that they actually sent in 10,000 federal troops who ended up hanging and shooting people in the streets. Nobody imaged this scale of difficulty. If you want to get a sense of how agonizing it was, go to the Lincoln Memorial and read Lincoln's second inaugural. Which is 700 words, it mentions God 14 times, in 700 words, and has two quotes from the Bible.
The difference between the rational, calm, historically reasoned Lincoln of Cooper Union in 1860, and this anguished State of the Union, excuse me, Second Inaugural is 4 years of agony for a country.
Now we are not faced with a Civil War, that's not the parallel I am trying to draw. But we are faced with a series of challenges from so many different directions occurring simultaneously that their cumulative effect is greater than the Cold War, greater that the Second World War, greater than the Great Depression, and I think that the only time I know of comparable in terms of having to deal with a multitude of challenges is the period of 1861 to 1865.
Let me just give you a brief survey of what I am describing. First of all, you are going to live through the largest wave of scientific knowledge that we have ever seen. In the next 25 years, we will have 4 to 7 times as much new science as we had in the last 25. I think these are literal numbers, I used to say 4 times as much and then I gave a talk to the National Academy of Science's working group on Computation and Information. And afterwards the Chairman said to me, "4 times isn't big enough, it's got to be at least 7."
I then went to New York to the American Museum of National History and asked my friend Michael Novichek who is the chief scientist what he thought and he said "I think maybe ten times as much." But as I thought about it, Novichek is a vertebrate paleontologist, and that is kind of a lagging field in terms of knowledge (LAUGHTER), and we haven't had the same scale of capitol investment and so we don't have the same rise of instrumentation. So let's say it's 4 to 7 times as much new knowledge. What does that mean on a practical level? It means that if you were sitting down as part of a planning committee looking out to 2031 for the University, for the city of Baltimore, for a profession, for a company, for the US government. If it's 4 times as much new knowledge, it would be as though you were in 1880 trying to imagine tonight. Now 1880 is pre-electric light, pre-automobile, pre-long distance telephone, pre-radio, pre-television, pre-motion picture, pre-airplane, pre-air-conditioning, pre-iPod, and just go down the list. But if it is 7 times as much new knowledge, it's as though you're Sir Isaac Newton in 1660 trying to discover calculus. I mean, you couldn't start the conversation. How would you begin to explain the world you now live in?
Now this is going to happen because there are more scientists alive today than in all previous human history. They are getting better computers and better instruments every year. They are then connected by email and cell phone instead of being connected by snail mail and publication. And they are then connected by licensing, venture, capitol and royalties, so you move from the laboratory to the marketplace very quickly, and finally they are connected to china and India's reserve centers of production. So when you add all that up, you are talking about just an enormous wave of new knowledge which will have many good things. We think at the Center for Health Transformation which I helped found, we think that it is very likely that we will eliminate cancer as a cause of death, we think its very possible that we will find a vaccine for Alzheimer's, we think that many good things will happen.
It will also probably lead to several bad things, because that is the nature of knowledge, to have a good and a bad. But in either event, it is going to mean a constant process of change, and a constant process of rethinking things, and it means we almost certainly have to fundamentally overhaul American education to insure that from K through 12 people learn enough math and science just to be capable of operating in the modern world, and that is a big change.
The second big change is the rise of China and India, and I just want to say from the standpoint of your generation, China and India are a fact, they're not a problem. What we do about them is a problem, but they're a fact. There are a billion, three hundred million Chinese; there are about a billion Indians. We say in our declaration of independence that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Well the same creator that endowed us, endowed them. They have every right to pursue happiness, and they're going to. So you're going to see a lot of people working very hard to pursue happiness.
And we basically have only two strategies for your generation. We decide we are prepared to compete in which case we've got to roll up our sleeves and go through a series of transformations; or we decide competition is too hard, and we want to run and hide. In which case we can accept a strategy of elegant decay, which in the European model has led to 25% unemployment for people who are under 30, and an absence of new jobs, and a stunning decline in net wealth, but its an option, its always an option to decide not to compete. If we want to compete, which is what I would advocate, because I want my two grandchildren to have the highest value added jobs in the world, in the wealthiest country in the world, with the greatest capacity for leadership, if that is what we want, then we have to transform litigation, regulation, taxation, education, health and energy. That is a lot.
And yet unless we're prepared to go through that level of change its very hard for me to see how we're going to compete 30 years from now with China and India. On the other hand if we do go through that level of change I think there is every reason to believe we'll be for the next hundred years the most successful country in the world. We are far and away by a very big margin the best integrated society in history. People come from anywhere in the world and they learn to be American. They learn to work hard they learn to be creative, they learn to compete, they learn to cooperate. So you can come from Bosnia and Serbia where your families would kill each other, show up at an American suburb, send your kids to the same school, they show up at the same soccer team. It doesn't occur to them they hate each other, they're too busy. (LAUGHTER) They want to be Americans, It's a very different model...It's a remarkable cultural pattern which began 400 years ago at Jamestown, and has continued to spread, and which makes us a very unique civilization.
The third challenge we face after science and the economic competition of China and India is a very simple fact which now that I am 63 I feel more passionately about. The baby boomers are going to hang around for a long time. Now this did not affect me much at 20 but at 63 it strikes me as a good idea. (LAUGHTER) But let me give you some numbers just so you can understand the scale of change we're describing. In 1900, 46 was the average lifespan, now think about that. Since we are talking to a college age crowd how many of you have parents who are older than 46? Look around the room. On average they would be dead in 1900. Isn't that amazing? Last year in the longest living society in the world which is Japanese, a girl born in Japan last year on average will live to be 88. That means half of them will live to be older than 88. Let's think about that, you go from 46 to 88, no society in history has tried to sustain this many people for this long. And guess what, the baby boomers are going to apply to aging exactly the pattern they have applied to the whole life, it's about me.
You know when it was time to build primary school they wanted them built. When it was time to go watch ballet or football, they wanted the parents to show up. When it gets time to get older, they are going to want it to be the best aging in the world with the greatest range of choices. This is going to require enormous changes. There were complaints recently that the new Medicare Parts D drug program had too many choices. I don't know many of you heard about this, but I did. Senior citizens can't really be asked to make complex choices. So you shouldn't have all these different options because after all it's too hard for them to think it through.
Well, it occurred to me, I took a cruise this summer and I was thinking about it, and it occurred to me that we should consider introducing Medi-Cruise. (LAUGHTER) Because if you go online and check there are lots of cruise lines, and they leave from lots of different ports and they go to lots of different places, and they have lots of different pricing structures, and when you go to the ports, you have lots of different tours. Now think about what a brutal vicious thing we are doing to our senior citizens. Think about how confusing they must find it to be to sit there and go, "Do you really want to do the Caribbean again or do you want to do Alaska?" "Do you want to do the Baltic or do you want to do the Mediterranean?" "Do you want to pay whole lot and have that sweet up on top?" "Do you want pay a little bit and be down below?" "Do you want the one with all the meals, or only half the meals?" Do you want to go on the ship that has the casino, or the ship that doesn't have the casino?" "Do you want to go on the Disney ship with the 6,000 grandchildren, or do you want to go on the adult ship?" I mean, obviously this is wrong. Am I right? It's brutal, it's unfair, and so I am thinking on behalf of the notion of protecting seniors themselves, trying to get someone to introduce a bill called Medi-Cruise.
We'll create a federal administration of cruses. They will reach out with wisdom, and bureaucratic knowledge. They will pick 3 cruise options: Cruise A, Cruise B, and Cruise C. If you are over 65 we will limit you, nobody should be allowed to go on a cruise on your own just because you are wealthy. You should be required to have the same cruise as every one else just to prove that we are an egalitarian society. And then we will all be happy, right? We will have shared the misery evenly. I mean isn't that the insanity of this whole model?
By the way, I thought up the same thing with cars. Do you realize that there are over 600 models of cars? Maybe there should be a rule, at 65 you only get to pick 3. (LAUGHTER) But think about the difference of these two models. The Baby-boomers are going to want active healthy aging. There are going to want long term living, not long-term care. They are going to want to remain very active for as late as they can. And they are going to travel all over the place, and they are going to stay busy.
I studied under Edwards Deming, the father of the quality movement, when he was 90 years old. I took a 60 hour tutorial. He taught a 4 day 10 hour course, until he was 92. I consulted with Peter Drucker when he was 89. Because people who work with their brains like to stay busy. Henry Kissinger had a book review I read on the way over here. Kissinger is remarkably active and will be, I suspect, until the day he dies. He loves what he does, he wants to do it. Picasso panted till he was 93. This is different than the industrial agricultural model were people were physically broken at 55, and by the way they were going to die young.
You know I told that the average person lived to be 46 in 1900. As late as 1935 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed Social Security, you could get your retirement at 65 and the average person died at 63. Now I want you to think about this. If you want to understand why Roosevelt was the greatest politician of the 20th Century...think about the fact that people were thrilled about a program that most of them wouldn't get. Now the average Baby-boomer is going to be on Social Security for somewhere between 15-25 years. Nobody ever designed a program like this. The first year the Peewee paid Social Security checks, there were 42 taxpayers for every person getting a check. This year there 3. When my two grandchildren enter the job market there will be 2. It's a totally different situation, requiring real change.
I want to talk about 2 other great challenges that are domestic. One is the whole question of "Who are we as a country?" "What does it mean to be an American?" There is a very real struggle in a way... I just published a book last week called, "Rediscovering God in America." It's a very simple book. It starts at the National Archives with the Declaration of Independence which says, "We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights." It's a very important concept. It means that power in America goes from God to you personally. You are sovereign, and then you loan power to the state. The government doesn't loan power to you. That's why the Constitution begins, "We the people of the United States of America" And this particular small book takes you around Washington. You go around the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and then the Lincoln Memorial, and the ultimately the FDR the WWII and the Capitol and the Supreme Court. And we just show you how the historic America that existed prior to 1963 was totally imbued with this idea that our rights came from god. John F. Kennedy said the same thing. Our rights do not come from government, they come from God.
And how in the last 40 year the Courts have increasingly had a secular world view which is doubly weird because the Supreme Court has Moses holding the 10 Commandments in the wall. And say so...they're sitting there saying were not sure if this is legal as they sit under it. And it's a very very powerful argument, because the second part of defining who we are as being Americans is very simple.
We have been successfully integrative because for 400 years we have required English, and it means you could be....Benjamin Franklin worried about this because there was substantial number of people in Pennsylvania that spoke German. His concern was that ultimately he did not want us to us be come a country that had multiple languages...he's happy to have people speak multiple languages, but he did not want the country to be confused. Now this is a very significant question about the nature of America's future, and I would argue that we are to a peculiar degree a country defined by our memory. We are not genetically American. We are not racially American. We are not even geographically American. You know Arnold Schwarzenegger can show up...for that matter Henry Kissinger can show up and they become American. Colin Powell's parent's can migrate to New York City, and he's an American. My great great great grandparents could come over and I'm an American.
I mean we don't have any test that says "here is this little box." What we have is a collective memory. This is what it means to be an American, and anybody on the planet can learn how to be an American. But we face a grave danger if we quit teaching it, because our country's one generation deep. And the morning that generation disappears, if there is nobody left behind who understands how to be an American, why would you assume we'll reinvent this? Why would you assume that we won't become like the Balkans, or like West Africa, or like Baghdad? We have fully as much capacity to disintegrate as anybody else and we're sort of a miracle that we hold ourselves together with as great a diversity as we have, with as much energy as we have, and that we keep directing those energies in positive, creative ways rather than in destructive ways. So this whole question of how do you deal with immigration, how do you deal with the border, how do you deal with citizenship, how do you define being an American will be a major challenge for your generation.
The last great domestic challenge I think is the fact that we have large structured government institutions that simply don't work. You saw some of this with what happened in New Orleans and Katrina. The fact is, in Katrina, government failed. The federal government failed. The state of Louisiana failed. The city of New Orleans failed. And for 22,000 citizens in the lower 9th ward, citizenship failed. They literally did not have the education, the training, the habits of responsibility, or the capacity to get out of the way of a hurricane. And so you have got to look at that experience and say how much do you have to change each of those four layers, so that if it happened again you didn't have the same failure?
But consider a stage further. The Gates foundation reported that the Detroit school system graduates 21% of its entering freshman on time. Think about that, if you are going to compete with China and India in an age of science, think about the notion that four out of five people entering the Detroit school system do not graduate on time-assuming that you believe all 21 % who get a diploma actually got a document worth having. This is a stunning challenge. And you see it happen again and again. So part of the challenge is that not only do you have to absorb all this new knowledge from science, not only do we have to compete with China and India, not only do we have to deal the baby boomers and others who are going to live much longer than we ever expected, how are we going to have institutions that work?
We fought the entire Second World War from Pearl Harbor to victory over Japan in less than four years; it now takes 22 years to add a runway to the Atlanta airport. So think about the difference in those two systems, in the speed, accuracy and agility with which we once did things. And so your generation is going to face the challenge... You can go to my website; it's named after my first name its Newt.org. And there is a paper there on entrepreneurial public management, where we outline this scale. And we looked and try to explain here is what we have to do. Here is what it would be like to have government... I mean, imagine a government that was as accurate as a gas pump.
How many of you pump your own gas at self-service gas stations? It is not a radical thought, right? How many of you use a credit card to pay for it? Right, virtually the same number. How many of you do not keep your receipts, or do not even get a receipt? How many of you get a receipt and don't use it? This is my favorite group; I used to be in this group. And I asked this question for about six weeks and I realized one evening...that me. And it is an example of how culture changes, because I watched myself to try to figure out why I was getting this receipt that I wasn't keeping. And you finish pumping the gas, you pull it out, you start to hang it up, and the sign goes off and it says "would you like a receipt?" And I'd watch myself and think, why not? It's free. (LAUGHTER) You know and I punch yes and they print the receipt out and I look at it and go I don't want this. What am I doing? Now here is my point. I'll ask one last group. How many of you get a receipt, keep it, and check it against your credit card? Ok, raise your hand. This is the hardcore 10%. Here is the point I want to drive at for a second. 85% or 80% of the people in this room now stipulate that you have a gas pump smart enough that it knows who you are, how much gas you pumped, what it cost, what your credit card was, and it sent the data to your credit card accurate enough that it is not worth your while to check. You have to confess, this is a fairly smart gas pump.
By contrast last year, in dealing with illegal immigration, the social security administration received six billion, four hundred million dollars in tax payments for people who do not exist. And couldn't figure out that this was a problem. Now just consider the accuracy of the two systems that I just described. A government system which can't figure out that we should find out who sent the six billion, four hundred million dollars, and a private sector system that you trust enough to handle your cash flow every month. Remarkable difference in capabilities. One other example. How many of you have used an automatic teller machine outside the US to get cash? Well traveled group. Think about this model: you are in a foreign country, you walk up to an anonymous machine, you put in a plastic card, you punch in a four number code, it reaches out 7306 miles, finds your bank, verifies who you are, validates you have the money, changes it into the local currency at a slightly bad exchange rate, gives you the money. And it took eleven seconds, right?
Now how many of you have paper records in the health system? If you have a record in the health system, it is almost certainly paper. Think about it. We lost 1,100,000 paper records in New Orleans. And if you are a chemotherapy patient halfway though your treatment, and we just lost your record because it is now wet and lost. We have a real problem. And so, again, look at the kind of differences between the kinds of systems.
We are right at the edge of a breakout where you can have systems are unimaginably powerful, that allow you to be very accurate, very efficient, almost certainly wireless, and creating just a different world. And if we make the breakthroughs, if we use the new scientific knowledge, if we modernize our systems of government, we are going to have an amazing future. I mean, somebody said to me the other week, you know this is the edge of the renaissance, and we are a continent-wide equivalent of Florence. And you can see a renaissance over the next 30 to 50 years of just extraordinary creativity, if we can get there.
The biggest hurdle to getting there is overseas, and here at home. And it is the danger of terrorism. Now I want to close with this thought and then go to questions. But I want to drive this home for a minute.
This summer Scotland Yard arrested a couple who were going to use their six month old baby to get a bottle with bomb fluid in it on an airplane in order to kill people. Now if I come here tonight to tell you that there are people who hate our civilization enough, that there are young males who are 16 to 25 and they're prepared to die, as long as they get to kill you. That's one level of threat. And while it is frightening and unnerving, it is at least understandable.
But if I come here tonight to tell you that here is a couple willing to kill their own six month old baby as long as they get to kill you, that is a level of ferocity that we have not confronted yet. And this is going to potentially become very bad. And all of you need to understand that. Things like the North Korea nuclear test are not strange, abstract, page one headlines. They are life and death threats to Baltimore. I mean, useful study for the school, pick three places in the city that a nuclear bomb could go off and look what the footprint looks like. And it'll be pretty horrifying. Take your hometown, where ever you came from, go back home and look what it would look like after a nuclear weapon, it'll be pretty horrifying.
If all we were faced with were occasional car bombs, occasional airplanes flown into a skyscraper, it would be a problem, it would be painful, but it would not be a threat to our survival. We have enemies who hate us. It is not a problem in communication; they know exactly who they are.
For example in the irreconcilable wing of Islam, they would not allow a single woman in this room. Not hard. Anybody think we are going to compromise on that? I don't think so. In the irreconcilable wing of Islam their version of the Sharia says that a husband can kill his wife or his daughter and a son can kill his mother or sister as an honor killing in order to protect the family's honor. Anybody here think we are going to allow US law to say it is not murder? I don't think so. Under their version of the Sharia, if you do not have four male witnesses, you cannot prove that it is rape. And if you are picked up for a sexual offense, and you don't have four male witnesses, the woman is automatically guilty. Seventy-five percent of the women in prison in Pakistan are in prison for sexual offenses, because they couldn't prove anything. Do you think we are likely to adopt that standard? I don't think so.
This is going to be hard. Mark Bowden who is a great Philadelphia reporter wrote a book called Black Hawk Down, which became a movie, about Somalia, and he is a great investigative reporter. He went to Somalia, he interviewed Somalis. He just finished a book which came out a couple months ago called Guest of The Ayatollah, which is about the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. He went to Iran. He interviewed the people who took the embassy. He interviewed the people who were guards. It's well worth you reading.
The subtitle of the book is "the first battle in Iran's war against America." And Bowden, who is not particularly ideological, is just very straight in the book. The elites who currently govern Iran hate us. They hate us because they know exactly who we are. We represent freedom. They are against freedom. They want a different world. And I will close with this quote from Ahmadinejad, the current leader of Iran, who said "we have to defeat the Anglo-Saxons and eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth."
Now I know I am on a college campus, and I know we very often, as a former teacher in a college, that we can have very complex abstract arguments about the meaning of words and the symbolic communication. But does anyone in here seriously believe that it is very hard to translate the term "we have to defeat the Anglo-Saxons and eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth?" His following quote a few weeks later-these were all public quotes on television-his following quote a few weeks later was "it is easy to imagine a world in our lifetime in which both America and Israel have disappeared." Now do any of you seriously doubt the meaning of that sentence? And so I think we are on the edge of a much harder world with a much bigger threat. And I think it is part of this whole process of the next twenty years.
While absorbing the science, competing with China and India, absorbing the challenge of the baby boomers living as long as they can and as actively as they can, figuring out how to define America, so that it continues to be the most integrative society in history, and dealing with the challenge of reinventing our government structures so they work, we had better figure out a national security policy which is capable of dealing with this scale of threat, or we will truly become a frightened world.