The Epidemic of Indecision

Amid our fragmented society, the need for integrative politics is more necessary than ever.

Theodore Roosevelt, one of America's greatest presidents, said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

Today, the world faces an epidemic of indecision. No doubt the decisions are getting harder, but, nevertheless, the penalties of indecision are multiplying.

For decades, governments in advanced economies have been reaching compromises between those on the right and those on the left by kicking the can and the bill to the next generation. Yet as debt accumulates to unsustainable levels, governments have to not only start saying "no" to new requests for assistance or tax carve-outs but also start retracting what has already been promised, but which governments cannot realistically afford to fulfill.

These decisions are hard to make, but they must be made. The protracted turmoil over the euro that has already inflicted tremendous damage on Europe awaits America unless those in power reach agreement on the tough budget decisions soon.

Decisions have become more difficult to make because media has gone from a few vertical, national outlets that provide a common reference point for most of a nation's population to individuals being able to self-select which angle on the news they prefer and perhaps even make the news themselves by blogging or commenting on blogs.

This horizontal media landscape and a mushrooming in the number of segments of society that have been empowered and activated to impact policy outcomes make the task of governing immensely more difficult. Politics has not yet caught up with the fragmentation of news sources and society. At a time when Washington, Congress, and politics are losing their luster, we need them to effectively function as much as ever.

Not only has decision making within countries become more fragmented and therefore more difficult, the rise of fast-growing, emerging powers such as Turkey where I have been teaching for the last week drive a similar result globally. As a result, the G-20 has replaced the G-8 as the primary decision-making body. Not unexpectedly, the G-20 has struggled to be more than a roomful of talking heads. It is not surprising that getting 20 people to agree is harder than getting eight to agree. Nevertheless, decisions must be made.

For an increasingly fragmented world to regain its equilibrium, politics must become more integrative. This is the central challenge before this generation.

Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).