Sachs, like many others, points out that our declining net national savings rate has meant a decline of funds available for domestic investment to build capital stock. Or stated another way, our public infrastructure gets a grade of "D" - - with an estimated five-year bill of $2.2 trillion to correct deficiencies in basic systems. Few Americans fully understand the need for public infrastructure in a world of global markets and supply chains. Washington's retreat from public purpose has produced an environment in which paying for civilization is an abstraction. Economic fairness has become over-shadowed by the fallacy of the free-market. Disregard for fairness and sustainability has produced roads that are worn out; bridges and dams vulnerable to collapse; and levee and river systems in need of major upgrades.
Sachs ends his book with seven ideas for improving government (Engineers should remember Oscar Wilde's line that an idea that isn't dangerous is hardly worth calling an idea at all.):
- Set Clear Goals and Benchmarks - - We need clear goals. We need a strategic vision of our infrastructure - - it needs to be defined in terms of our long-term economic, social, and environmental goals. Great countries have great goals - - and in a mindful society, such goals ought to be widely known.
- Mobilize Expertise - - How many engineers are in elected positions in Washington? Not enough. The problems we face are global, interconnected across many areas of politics and policy, and often highly technical. Take energy policy - - could one imagine a problem less easily handled by a layman and legal Congress operating on a two-year election cycle?
- Make Multiyear Plans - - Complexity is a huge problem, even without the mix of short planning cycles. Some of our most pressing problems - - infrastructure, energy development, health care reform - - you just don't solve these types of problems in 18-months.
- Be Mindful of the Far Future - - Think two generations ahead. Medicare looks dreadful. Social Security is broke. We are two degrees on average warmer. The solution to a known problem in 2060 starts in 2011 - - it doesn't start in 2055. Don't kick the can down the road - - don't assume some future technology will come into being in 2050 to stop climate change. Maybe or maybe not - - but without R&D investment today, the risk of not having a solution in 2055 goes way up.
- End the Corporatocracy - - Political fund raising and lobbying have created a very corrupt system. Too much money chasing too much influence. Think about it - - if the public provided campaign financing, the media provided free time, campaign contributions from lobbying firms were banned, and you stopped the revolving door - - campaigning stops being an investment. And just maybe - - fairness, honesty, and foresight once again become the foundations of our democracy.
- Restore Public Management - - No matter how you slice it, we are going to have very limited fiscal resources to deal with our national problems. We will need very talented individuals in public service. Mindful democracies do not sub-contract out the core functions of government. Distracted societies do - - and you end up with things like Blackwater in very distance lands. Our goal ought to rebuild public management, not turn it over to private management.
- Decentralize - - Policy problems should be addressed at the most local level of government that is capable of providing a solution. Education, health, roads, water treatment - - all could be addressed at the local level. Decentralization allows for active participation by engineering - - at the level we can have the greatest impact.