Ensuring a Vital Future for Our Grandchildren

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The declaration below was prepared by a group of members of the Davidson Class of 1964. They invite Davidson alumni who are so inspired to join them in their efforts.

A 50th college reunion, is it the best of times or the worst of times? A renewal of old friendships is the best but, at the same time, we miss many who have died and it is clear the moving finger is nearing the end of the story that has included the Class of 1964.

Usually when 50-year graduates come together, they think about the past and share stories of their lives in college and what has happened since graduation. This was true for members of the Davidson Class of 1964. We looked back to a time when Davidson basketball first reached national prominence and when traditional professions were the foundation of the economy. But in addition to the expected cocktail party type conversations, we found we shared other thoughts and concerns. A brief retrospective look into our formative years at and just after Davidson helps in understanding our perspective.

Most of our time at Davidson overlapped with the presidency of John F. Kennedy, who was inaugurated in the winter of our freshman year. All seemed right with the world, and we were protected under the dome of Davidson; happenings in the greater world didn’t affect our day to day lives in any uncomfortable or meaningful way. However, major changes were occurring within the country as well as internationally during Kennedy’s two years and 10 months in office: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the establishment of the Peace Corps, developments in the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Trade Expansion Act to lower tariffs, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Then on Nov. 22, 1963, our traditional world exploded. Reality as we had known it ended. Kennedy’s assassination in the fall of our senior year was more than just troubling, it was surreal and devastating. Each of us remembers vividly exactly where we were when we got the news. How could such a thing happen? It was the end of Camelot! The world would never be the same.

While perhaps there were a few of us skilled in detecting early signals of change and who had a sense that we were in the formative stages of an historical transformation, wherever these Cassandras were, they were voices crying in the wilderness. We were unprepared for the birth and emergence of a different kind of society and economy; we were unprepared for changes in the environment caused by man’s technological advances; but ready or not, the bedrock of our culture was being transformed.

Before 1964 we had barely noticed the sounds of gunfire in the little known country of Vietnam but very soon after graduation that would change radically. Although a number of our Class of ’64 went to Vietnam, many, particularly those who opposed the war, searched for ways to escape going to Vietnam. Even now, years later, an apropos recently updated stinging joke is still circulated and cites politicos of our era, some of whom opposed the war and some of whom were “chicken hawks”: “What distinguishes Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump from Jane Fonda?” The answer: “Only Jane Fonda went to Vietnam.”

The Vietnam War and the assassination of President Kennedy were by no means the only in-your-face breakdown of our old familiar world; there were the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the battering of society by political corruption and Watergate, computerization, the sexual revolution riding on the coattails of birth control, and the all-too-long-ignored civil rights issues. And as obvious as the problem is now and should have been then, most of us today are chagrined to fess up to the fact that only a few of our classmates were concerned about civil rights. They were the shining exceptions; the rest of us did not want to rock the boat and were focused only on our personal lives oblivious to big picture changes that were occurring.

Vietnam is now history to most but will always be with our generation, and we well remember fellow Davidsonians and other talented friends who were imprisoned and/or died there; it forms a significant part of our view of life that, after 50 years, causes us to focus on both the past and the future. With that focus, it turns out that all of our Kennedy era idealism has not been lost and particularly two of Kennedy’s quotes have remained part of us through the years and can set the stage for this article expressing our thoughts and concerns: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what can you do for your country.”; and, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” In fact, from our vantage point of 50 years out, representing multiple different occupations and having experienced life from multiple points of view, we do not consider these quotes pie-in-the-sky idealism but, rather, critically important insights that need to be taken into consideration if America is to offer to our posterity what it gave us.

What’s it all about, Alfie? Surprisingly, a number of us have gotten together to talk about exactly that: What has it been all about? Might we come to some agreement on this basic concept and, if so, what positive contribution could we make? Some of us have been later getting into the game than others, but light has finally dawned on Marblehead and we now recognize that our society and economy are in transformation and the challenges and changes will, if unaddressed, negatively impact future generations. So now what?

The Davidson “Game-Changer” concept was a good focus point but we were interested in something other than just giving money. And now that we have the time to think about the future we better be quick about it since, in our mid-70’s, there may not be much of this future that applies to us personally. However, age does bring some insight and we now much better understand what is most important in thinking about the future; and our personal self-interest is not what is most important. With a good three man core to kick-start us, we assembled an interested group of 18 to talk about various concerns and ideas important to the future. After three meetings we found we did have an ultimate common interest as stated in the Simple Declaration below.

Simple Declaration

In Alexis de Tocqueville’s seminal book, On Democracy in America, Tocqueville concluded that America’s initial conditions permitting our democracy were unique. The citizens perceived themselves as equal; there was no aristocracy.

We are concerned America is losing these initial conditions by creating a new aristocracy based on wealth. Many Americans, particularly the very wealthy, are ignoring The Preamble of our Constitution which enumerates the goals for the founding of America. Often, they are selectively short-sighted. Too many focus on liberty while failing to understand that liberty is only one of the five stated goals and liberty has no priority over the other four: justice, domestic tranquility, common defense and the general welfare.

The understandable pride in the hard work of successful individuals can and has morphed into hubris. Many fail to recognize that their successes would not have been possible without the framework of our American democracy with its necessary interconnectedness of all five of our goals. Critically many also fail to understand that these goals stated in The Preamble are not just for ourselves but for “ourselves and our posterity.” We are troubled that the self-interest of individual citizens citing liberty overwhelms their responsibility for justice and the general welfare. Particularly, we are disturbed that many Americans, too focused on themselves and the short-term, are disinclined to do what is needed for our posterity.

We members of Davidson’s class of 1964 are a disparate lot: politically we range from distinctly right leaning Republicans to distinctly left leaning Democrats; spiritually, we range from deeply religious to atheistic. We are brought together, not simply from spending formative years at Davidson, but by our overriding concern for our collective children, grandchildren, and the proverbial seventh generation*. From our vantage point of age and experience, our collective heirs are clearly much more important than we are. Simply put, while we may have done well, what is the point of this success if it has been only for ourselves but fails to ensure the well-being of our posterity? We aver that the greater good is for our posterity to do well and with that simple declaration we come together to consider how we may express our concerns about issues that will particularly affect them.

* From the “Great Law of the Iroquois” which states, “in our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

With that simple declaration our group of Davidson graduates from the Class of 1964 is striving to focus on issues that we see as extremely important if our posterity is to enjoy the benefits America has offered us in our lifetimes.

In looking at problems that face America, we deplore the lack of civility and the inability to listen and consider alternatives that characterize the attitudes of many of our elected officials and leaders today.

While we in our group from the Class of ’64 may vary considerably in political and religious views, we are all committed to listening to each other, analyzing existing facts, identifying emerging “weak signals” before trends become apparent, and realizing that new situations that have arisen over our lifetimes focused on reforming old ideas, are often inappropriate for today—a time of historical transformation. We are concerned that we live in an age in which bombast, stonewalling, and dogma limit the ability to compromise and cooperatively create new ideas to solve problems.

Several members of our group have been involved with an organization, Communities of the Future (COTF), which has received both national and international attention. This gave us access to extensive research and input from many nationally and globally respected experts on current situations including rapidly impending/increasing change in major areas including the economy, healthcare, the environment, education, and government. This research served to further confirm our belief that these changes are unprecedented, accelerating and urgently need immediate attention. Particularly with this input, as we started to discuss different issues, there evolved the concept of “Fundamentals of Engagement for a Vital Future” below.

Fundamentals of Engagement for a Vital Future

We are in a time of transformation rarely seen in human history. A new set of norms is necessary for the vital future of our grandchildren to replace fundamental principles that have been successful for over two hundred years. These new norms include a shift from:
• Independence to interdependence.
• Radical individualism to connected individuality.
• Linear to non-linear thinking and acting.
• Hyper-competition to deep collaboration.

Consequently, we are deeply concerned with:
• The growing lack of civility in political discourse.
• The confusion between “having the truth” and “a search for truth.”
• The need to make things simpler (but not simple) in a world of increasing complexity.

To address these and other future problems we need:
• To redesign our institutions to adapt quickly to constant change.
• A new concept of leadership that understands the growing transformation of our society and our economy and builds “capacities for transformation.”
• Individuals to be connective, creative, collaborative thinkers to redefine success.
• To create “comprehensive community transformation” in all local areas focused on processes that are bottom up rather than top down.

We believe that ad-hoc networks of committed people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs need to emerge to work in collaboration to develop new concepts, approaches and methods appropriate for a constantly changing society and economy. We are too often disappointed in our elected officials who are unwilling to address important issues rationally within the context of an emerging future that will be very different from the past. It is our position that if we cannot adapt to changing times with the inevitable transformation of our society, economy and environment, we will have been derelict in fulfilling our obligation to do what is most likely best for our posterity. We consider the quote, attributed to Keynes when he was challenged by an opponent about changing his opinion, as axiomatic: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”

With this background and context in mind, three initial issues emerged from our dialogue; issues we feel will be at the core of a “vital future” for our grandchildren:
• Climate change is real and caused by man; the correct label is “anthropogenic climate change”.
• Increasing income and wealth gaps are detrimental to the future of our democracy.
• Healthcare of the future will require a community-based approach.

These issues fulfill two basic requirements that have undergirded our group’s dialogue: first, the issue is one that will be extremely important to our posterity, and, second, these issues are currently not being appropriately addressed.

Anthropogenic Climate Change – Climate Change Is Real and Caused by Man

Our both-sides-of-the-political-aisle Davidson Class of 1964 Alumni group unanimously agree with the experts who have studied this issue and say this statement is true. We specifically note that Scientific American no longer even hedges that bet at 97 or 99 percent, and in the November 2016 issue now says this is a theory we know to be true… global warming with its resultant climate change is real and caused by man. We, in the old guard of the Davidson Alumni, understand quite well that acting today on this knowledge will cause short-term pain and we recognize many politicians may play on that fact to deny reality and to kick this uncomfortable can down the road; but we consider it unconscionable to ignore the much more severe likely long-term effects that will be inflicted on our posterity if we fail to act today. We consider it a truism that the most important goal for America is long-term and, even if there must be short-term pain, it is far better to make a short-term sacrifice rather than to compromise the long-term well-being of not only America and America’s posterity but the world’s posterity as well. Simply put, if we fail to act today we will be willfully saddling our children, our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children with much worse problems tomorrow, predictably making their lives much more difficult. Such a cop-out would be the antithesis of doing what is most likely to be best for our posterity.

Increasing Income and Wealth Gaps

Economic inequality, including both income and wealth, is an increasing problem in the U.S. U.S. Census data shows that from the late 1940s to the 1970s, incomes across the distribution grew at nearly the same rate. During this time, real family income roughly doubled. This changed around 1979 when income growth slowed for the bottom 80% and rose rapidly for the top 20%, especially the top 5%. From 1979 until 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession, the income of the middle 60% of households grew by 4% and the top 20% of households by 65%. However, the household income of the top 1% grew by 275% and the top .01% by 500%.

The data show rising concentration of wealth at the very top, little change for the rest of the top 10%, and a declining share for the bottom 90%. The share of all wealth held by the top 3% increased from 45% in 1989 to 54% in 2013. The share held by the bottom 90% fell from 33% in 1989 to 25% in 2013.

We believe that not only is this trend a danger for our economy, it is also a danger to our society and democracy. The stability of a democracy is based on trust in our institutions by all people and that the decisions made at all levels will create an environment of fairness and equality of opportunity. We fully understand the value of capitalism but we also recognize its shortcomings; particularly, capitalism can be too focused on making money in the short-term and may ignore long-term problems that negatively impact the short-term bottom line. Thus we recognize that capitalism can create monopolies that prevent needed collaboration and competition; we recognize the drive to make as much money as possible in the short-term can limit the ability to deal with long-term problems such as pollution and important social needs. We recognize, there are always a few unscrupulous elements of our society who will cut corners and cheat. Hence, we understand the necessity for appropriate governmental regulation and oversight.

However, as much as we understand the value and necessity of the invisible hand of capitalism with the attendant wealth it creates, we see clearly that when the wealth distribution gets too far out of line, as has happened in America, it creates major problems. This problem has been specifically noted by the Durants in The Lessons of History: if “an economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it” the result is a structural failure of the system and a major contributing factor opening the door to martial government and failure of that economy of freedom—i.e., failure of the democracy*.

To reduce the wealth gap for the future good of America, we believe it will be essential to create an environment that will reinforce a change in attitude with a new type of entrepreneurism based on the creativity of collaborative entrepreneurs as a central principle. Additionally, while we fully appreciate the necessity of equality of opportunity in a democracy, we also recognize that equality of education is a sine qua non if America is to provide true equality of opportunity; and America is not providing equality of education. A second rate education, in effect, makes equality of opportunity a nice political slogan, but for those who got the short straw for education, their reality is entirely different; they are forced to start far behind in the competition for jobs and rarely are they able to catch up and experience true equality of opportunity. We believe this is a major, but correctable, contributor to our present wealth gap.

A key requirement in dealing with this problem will be obtaining the buy-in and cooperation of those people at the top of the wealth spectrum who are opposed to changes in their already comfortable status quo. It is our hope that those with wealth will encourage, financially support and provide leadership for the creation of new ideas in the areas above and other areas needed to address our wealth gap problem in order for our democracy to remain vital and sustainable.

*Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, p. 79-80, copyright 1968, Simon and Schuster, Rockefeller Center, 630 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York

The Future of Medicine

As the wealthiest large nation in the world for the last several decades, the United States has enjoyed the medical benefits of funded research and development and entrepreneurial testing and marketing of countless new drugs and devices that have extended life and improved the quality of life for those who can afford these advances. Remarkably in the last century, average lifespan has increased in developed nations by over 30 years (from 47 in 1900 to over 77 in 2000), something that has never before happened in the history of mankind, and has largely been due to advances in medical diagnosis, newer treatments and preventive health (e.g., improved sanitation, vaccines, clean water, etc.).

But the enthusiasm we have all experienced as these advances have rolled out has masked health care’s Achilles heels…efficiency and cost. The London School of Economics extensive study in 2014 listed the U.S. #38 in health care metrics, which strongly suggests the need for transformational changes in our delivery of health care. We note the health care problem in America intersects with the wealth distribution problem in issue #2 above. The wealthiest in our society have access to the best American medicine has to offer, while the bottom does not enjoy the same health care delivery benefits. And even those not at the bottom of our wealth structure can be financially devastated by an illness in the family. This definitely affects the general welfare goal for America and is often expressed as a lack of fairness within our society.

There are two ways to address change in our health care. One is by making changes at the national or state level, the other by making changes at the local level. These are complementary and interlocking. Starting at the local level certainly appears to be the approach that would more likely lead to measurable transformational change.

One approach to transformational change at the local level has been put forth by Frank Maletz, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Connecticut who writes of transforming local hospitals into “healthspitals,” a term he uses to emphasize making hospitals centers for wellness as well as sickness by making them the central hub for community wellness education and activities.

Looking Forward

These initial three issues above arise from our deep concern for a vital future for our collective children and grandchildren. We, the members of this Davidson ’64 group, commit to collaborating with each other and all interested individuals to create networks of people, processes, and ideas dedicated to a sustainable civilization with undergirding principles and methods consistent with the original intent of our forebears to ensure justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, the general welfare and liberty – not only for ourselves but particularly for our posterity.

We hope our thoughts and concerns expressed in this article will appeal to others, especially Davidson graduates from different classes. The “Simple Declaration” and “Fundamentals of Engagement for a Vital Future” have already received very positive responses from a number of colleagues in different parts of the U.S. and the world to whom the papers were sent to get a reaction from outside our Class of ’64 group.

We have not conceived of ourselves as an exclusive group and we would very much like to have others be part of this effort. Ideally, we would like to see collaboration for futures thinking and action spread far beyond Davidson, since it is our thought that the more people who sign on to this effort, the more likely it is that ideas that emerge from this process will be listened to and, we hope, benefit our collective posterity. We encourage any reader of this article, Davidson graduate or any other person interested, who would like to connect with us to collaborate and to develop new transformational ideas and methods important to an emerging future that will be very different from the past, to please contact us. Rick Smyre is the contact person (rlsmyre@aol.com).

These ideas and declaration are supported by the following members of the Davidson College Class of 1964 group, and several others of our class, who because of agreements required by their professional positions, cannot be named.

Howard Arbuckle
Alton Brown
Ed Earle
Jerry Hopkins
George Little
Lee Martin
George Martin
Jim Rhyne
Ivon Rohrer
Charlie Rowe
Charlie Shapard
John Sink
Rick Smyre
Staff Warren
Mike Waters

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