Insights And Prescriptions

Evidently, I’m not the only person who writes more about problems than solutions–and gets criticized for it. I recently came across a column by someone named Scott Galloway that began with a similar concession.

Galloway began by acknowledging criticizism for focusing on tech, business or social problems, and not proposing solutions. “Well, guilty as charged, I suppose. But let me say two things.

First, these problems flow in part from failures of perception and awareness. My cohort of economically successful people vastly overestimates our own contribution to our success. Society has been telling us that our nice homes and fancy cars must mean we’re hard-working geniuses, and why should we argue the point? The flip side is also true. Society tells those who’ve been dealt a bad hand, who’ve never caught a break, that their failure must come from a lack of grit, an incapacity to dream big. I believe that just pulling the veil of hype that’s been laid across our unequal society is part of the solution to that inequality….

Second, to be blunt, things are really fucking bad. The dashboard of threats, from inflated asset values to irreversible climate change to armed assaults on government proceedings, is flashing red and getting worse. If I spent my entire public life pointing out the risks we face, I would never run out of material.

Those points made, Galloway also points to the ways in which America is, truly, “exceptional.” Certainly not perfect, but he acknowledges a point I have frequently made: what sets us apart is that this nation wasn’t born out of ethnicity or dynastic conquest, but  on the foundation of an ideal, what I’ve referred to in my own books as “The American Idea.”  Galloway says that fact does set us apart; “it holds a special promise. It remains a promise unfulfilled, but one I believe is within our grasp.”

He says that “we’ve gotten closest to realizing our ideals when we’ve balanced ruthless capitalism with the ballast of a strong middle class. We’ve drifted off that course” and he follows that observation with five recommendations to help us find it again. Those recommendations are: simplification of the tax code; reform of Section 230 and incarceration policy; imposition of a one-time wealth tax; and a rebranding of nuclear power.

You can read his reasoning for each of these prescriptions at the link. I have no particular dispute with any of them, although I would add–and prioritize– more civic education and support for the nation’s public schools, and a concerted effort to counter the “veil of hype” he refers to in his opening paragraphs.

So long as well-to-do and financially comfortable Americans can reassure themselves that their economic good fortune is a reflection of superior merit–that poor folks are disadvantaged because they are lazy or lack “middle-class values” and not because of structural and/or systemic social barriers they’ve encountered–we will fail to achieve the very real promise of a country that–despite all its imperfections–has aspired to an ideal of equality of opportunity.

A friend of mine used to remind me that curing disease requires both an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate prescription. An accurate diagnosis of our social ills has to go beyond the obvious manifestations–observations along the lines of “oh look, there are homeless people sleeping under that bridge.” It requires us to figure out just why those people are homeless, and why our society has failed to provide appropriate interventions.

As Galloway notes, social media currently feeds some of our more dysfunctional and harmful impulses. What is it about our legal framework that allows or incentivizes its use to convey misinformation and disinformation, and what changes to that framework are most likely to ameliorate the situation?

In other words–and in defense of those of us constantly pointing to problems that need fixing–we need to accurately diagnose the roots of our problems, and then consider what prescriptions might cure them.

But in order to come up with an accurate diagnosis, we do need civic literacy–an accurate understanding of our history and the institutions that shaped–or failed to shape–that history.


  1. This makes perfect sense! It is too often too easy to blow off our local and national problems in one sentence, often of blame-the-other. I absolutely agree that civics must be taught in schools. I almost daily believe that it is a great contributor to our current climate….ignorance of how one’s own country operates, or should.

  2. One department I worked in you were expected to have solutions to any issues/problems one presented at a department meeting. Unfortunately the dept. chair “only” had an interim appointment and was denied the permanent position by a Dean who was one of the worst jerks (read AH) I have ever known thus this “requirement” and the much more qualified individual were gone very quickly. I too was gone shortly.

  3. Yes, we need to offer a solution, but as Liz Truss has shown, sometimes the solution creates even more problems that need addressing.

    Look at our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Does this relationship offer more problems than solutions?

    Sheila points out the problem with the USA by stating we’ve never accomplished the American ideal. We’ve gotten close during FDR for a brief moment, but it required absolute dictatorship powers.

    Does anybody feel comfortable giving dictatorship powers to Joe Biden or Donald Trump?

    No f***ing way!

    How we got here is the problem! The solution requires a complete reversal toward us, the people.

  4. Dr Stan,
    its called the yes boy genre. most goverments/corps breed this. when your the working class, we dont expect a answer,or movement that betters the world,or part of it..just more employed wasted air. seems those who hold the cards,never want to do anything that does any good.

  5. I used to listen to Prof. Galloway’s podcasts but then he revealed that he supported Mehmet Oz, a longtime friend of the Galloway family, in his pursuit of the US Senate seat in PA. So much for Scottie’s credibility.

  6. Lacking a solid education equates to experiencing the world through the lens of emotion and reaction, rather than logical thought. Anecdotes become truth; opinions reflect feelings not fact; and pictures with captions (or videos) replace well-researched reporting.
    Soon public education will be entirely online, lacking any Socratic exploration, while the rich will attend private schools with varying agendas and dogmas.

  7. Patrick – thanks for sharing that fact about Galloway. It can be so disappointing when a person you have respected for their intelligence and integrity suddenly reveals their loyalty and favoritism for their friend that has no integrity whatsoever.

  8. There was a time during the 80’s when the Hollywood YMCA was called “an oasis in a sea of crisis”. There was a confluence of social issues that brought the community to breaking point.

    One issue was homeless youth. A nearby homeless shelter was closed due to failure to meet health codes. The LA Children’s Hospital sounded an alarm and asked the YMCA to find a way to help.

    The Y purchased Japanese futons and converted the social lounge on ground floor as an overnight shelter opened at 8 pm and squared away by 6:30 am while providing hot showers and clean clothes.

    As expected, the same health inspectors that ordered the homeless shelter to close targeted the YMCA. The Y stood ground and told the inspectors to condemn a nearby underpass as an alternative to the Y as a safer place for homeless youth. Our stance was not a rant. It was a temporary solution that provided the safest alternative while the Y advocated for community support to renovate the homeless shelter to code.

    Both the state and the community responded. The shelter was renovated. LA Children’s Hospital had the Y’s back to provide free healthcare on referral for homeless youth. Many runaway children were restored to family reunification through the intervention of YMCA Counseling and Youth Outreach.

    The Y had a 24/7 presence at the very center of Hollywood. We were expected to be a solution with no time for ranting. And we were used to being criticized for the inadequacies of solutions adapting to social crisis while advocating for comprehensive capacity to become a better community.

    In that same room that became an overnight shelter, the Y hosted and led meetings of the Hollywood Community Redevelopment Area Committee, the second largest in State of California. And yes … we were subject to intense criticism for that, too.

    One reality was clear to us. The folks who made a name under lights to be critics with a microphone … we never saw at the scene of solutions.

  9. Yes. High quality civics education; that means no football coaches teaching it.

    Solutions? How about overwhelming the Senate with Democrats. Increase the number of Justices to push the idiot-level ideologues to the back of the room. Why? So Roe can be re-instated. So Citizens United can be overturned. So voting rights, women’s rights and gay rights can be protected. MORE: pass legislation and create the next Constitutional Amendment that dumps the Electoral College. Re-write the Second Amendment to clarify the law to prevent the crazies from stashing weapons caches during “peaceful” demonstrations. Reinstate the controls on banking and Wall Street. Reinstate the law that prevents commercial banks from “investing” (gambling) depositor money in get-rich-quick schemes and corrupt speculation.

    Solutions? They lie with who we elect. Voters must promote candidates that represent THEM instead of corporate/banking America or flaming idiots like “OZ”, Walker, Vance and virtually every Republican running for the Senate.

  10. Don’t assume that you can’t get a decent civics education from a football coach. My high school freshman civics teacher was the football coach. He was thoughtful and encouraged discussion in the classroom about a wide range of issues. People can surprise us. My best advice is learn whatever you can from whomever you can. Most people know something I don’t.

  11. Our problems are VERY complex and there are no “platinum” bullets. We have DEEP, ROOTED structural/cultural forces to contend with: crony capitalism, shredding of common values, existential threats from climate change and authoritarianism/prejudice, mental/physical changes from media addiction, etc.

    Where to begin? It is a bit like football. You can’t score a touchdown on every play; you can’t even get a first down; you have to get 3 yards here, another 4…

    One radical idea – formalize the divide in our country. Create two countries and devise incentives to enable “blue” folks in red states to move to blue states and vice-versa.

  12. Follow-up to previous comment…then you can have a new Constitution, a new Supreme Court, no Electoral College, minimal gerrymandering, open primaries, fair taxes, etc. “Imagine”.

  13. If, and I mean if, you want to honestly look at the problems, then it requires a free and independent press to communicate the problems and seek solutions. A truly uncontrolled free press that is 100% publicly funded.

    A press that supports the people with no other connections or allegiances. This country has imprisoned Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, for over a decade for exposing military crimes and embarrassing the Pentagon, CIA, etc. For these institutions to seek an assassination plot against Assange under Mike Pompeo as CIA Director, one must assume they are the enemy of the people. As long as we have a MIC and an Intel apparatus like that working with our Oligarchy, we’ll need to defund those operations immediately.

    Before we head to number 3, we’ll have to see how many heads explode over the first two solutions. 😉

  14. There is no question that solving problems begins with accepting problem statements and analyzing root causes. Often times this is the most challenging but also the most critical part of solving them.

    However if one follows Republican advertising/entertainment on media those parts of problem-solving are shortened to, blame Democrats, which is a one size fits all non-solution because both parties are in charge of their own actions. Blaming is sure to fix nothing, ever, by anyone. It must be entertaining, though, and that’s the point of advertising. Entertain into submission.

    Any Republican reading this will come back with, yeah but that goes both ways. Which is, of course blaming Democrats rather than solving problems. It truly is one size fits all entertainment with zero intention of solving a single problem.

    Therefore a suggestion would be, don’t make the serious business of governance entertainment.

  15. “…this nation wasn’t born out of ethnicity or dynastic conquest, but on the foundation of an ideal, what I’ve referred to in my own books as “The American Idea.”

    Really? I think those who lived here before the ‘white man’ might have a thing or two to say about that.

  16. Peggy,

    Good for you. You were lucky and, I suspect, from another era. As a retired science teacher, I saw first hand the demise of social studies brought about by coaches who are pressured to win games, not teach. When being interviewed for teaching jobs, the second question asked is, “What can you coach?” Oh, and coaches receive a pay bonus too. Guess where their motives are.

  17. “I hate cancer, but I can’t fix it.

    That’s the dumbest statement. I am a breast cancer survivor. I get yearly mammograms’ so my cancer was caught at stage 0. Then I did everything the docs told me with reasonable input from me. And I didn’t argue with their recommendations. I am 5+ years cancer free today.

    I didn’t fix it personally but I hired some great folks who did. I am a great believer in prevention and science.

  18. Insights:  We need that civic education so that TRUE history can be taught, so that the roots of our societalproblems can be seen (so that people can recognize the BS coming from Fox News, and other right-wingsources, and no longer pay them any attention).  The very money that has flowed to the wealthy because of structural issues, allows them to loudly perpetuate the myths of “I’m a more better person than you are…as proven by my wealth.”  We have the example of Mr. very wealthy Alex Jones, who has gone back to his BS about the Sandy Hookshootings having been staged.  The toxins within our society are not better exemplified than by looking at himand the (happily deceased) Limbaugh…well there is always CharlesKoch and Mitch McConnell to look at.Well, it seems, that is a very, very, short list of the slimebags.Prescriptions:  End Citizens United, remove the power of the crazed idealogues on SCOTUS, indict DT, and listen to Peggy!

  19. We don’t need civics. What we need is new narratives and messaging. If not,the party becomes an anachronism.

  20. Vernon, I was from a different age, but football was important even in those dark ages. I agree that there has been a significant effort to dumb down the youth of America that seems only to be getting worse.

    Mitch, Ah shucks!

  21. Yes, Vernon and Peggy! In all but a few situations it was Coach Whoever reading the sports pages from last weekend and designing plays for this weekend. Civics and other social studies took the hind part daily. It was the kids’ loss!

    Hang in there, Kathy! Keep those cancer-free years going up, up, up!

    Sheila, thanks for the reminder that I can thin out all those political ads that tell me my candidate is done, totally done, if I don’t send in a contribution in the next 10 minutes, as those seconds tick away right in front of me on the screen. It’s a major dump-fest here today. I’m traveling lighter now and it feels good.

  22. The biggest and hardest part has always been in the analysis of the problem, and in understanding the nuances in in your definitions.

    I hate to pick on you Anthony, because I think we may basically agree on many items, but you missed the definitions in “…this nation wasn’t born out of ethnicity or dynastic conquest…”

    We weren’t born out of a single ethnicity – Ben Franklin complained about the influx of Germans who complained about the influx of Irish who complained about the influx of Italians and Poles – and that is just the white people – We aren’t a “single” ethnicity like Icelanders. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a ton of racism there.

    And there wasn’t a “dynastic” conquest. No we did our conquering without having a dynasty running things. The conquest, deception, and brutality towards the people who already lived here didn’t need a dynasty to keep going, but that means it was not “dynastic conquering”.

    One other point – whenever I hear someone who wants to “simplify the tax code” I cringe. It has traditionally meant to eliminate brackets and move towards a flat tax, with loopholes for the rich. Going from six to three tax brackets eliminates zero lines in the 1040 form. If they do “simplify” by eliminating “confusing” deductions, it is usually something like eliminating deductions for state and local taxes.

    I think we have much better ideas amongst the commenters here than Mr. Galloway, but he may have some good ideas in there too.

  23. “I’m Italian, so I’m Latin!”
    Best line of the week.

    First, you teach evolutionary psychology.

    Civics has to be based on it. Humans aren’t a blank slate.

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