As we begin the New Year and a new political era it’s time for us to be honest with ourselves; we were foolish to think that the federal government would solve our most pressing problems anyway.
The truth is that looking to government as the primary way of addressing the biggest problems we face is both naive, dangerous and a little bit lazy. In our new political reality, Americans need to embrace the radical self-reliance that is so unique to our nation.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” The same is true of solving our problems. We must achieve the solutions, they will not be bestowed upon us.
It’s time to stop acting like our biggest problems are someone else’s problem.
Lets face it — there is a certain laziness in liberalism that assumes the government will take care of “it” for us — that there is some group of people sitting in some capital somewhere whose job it is to deal with our problems.
At times, there is also a laziness in entrepreneurship. Maybe you can make $10 billion by creating an app that sends photos which disappear, but is that meaningful? Does that improve the world?
A high percentage of businesses which are celebrated and admired have little social utility. Many actually do harm. If we assume that government isn’t going to solve our biggest problems shouldn’t we expect more from business? Shouldn’t we expect that our most creative entrepreneurs use their genius to solve problems that matter?
It may be that this can be the moment when we truly accept that the federal government will at best be incompetent — and at worst will be dangerous — and we can take on the responsibility that has always been ours.
We can no longer wait for someone else to solve our problems. The world’s problems are our problems — it’s up to us to solve them.
This is the most American of all ideals. It’s in our blood. It’s in our history. It’s in our fundamental nature. We reject the notion that wisdom comes from above us, we reject the notion that one man or woman controls us. We reject the notion that the luck of an election confers unquestioned authority.
Catastrophic climate change, the existential threat to us all, is the best example of an ominous threat that cannot and will not be solved by government.
The good news is that thanks to the power of innovation we have the solutions, and for the first time in history the math is on our side. We have reached the renewable energy tipping point — that place where the math makes solar and wind a better option than burning fossil fuels.
For the last ten years Lazard Ltd.’s Global Power, Energy and Infrastructure Group has published an annual study comparing the cost of generating energy from fossil, nuclear and renewable technologies called the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) analysis.
One major conclusion from this year’s report is that wind and solar is competitive on an unsubsidized basis against the dominant fossil fuels — in particular natural gas which has been seen as its biggest competitor. Coal by contrast is expensive, nuclear even more so because decommissioning costs are excluded from the LCOE calculation. Utility-scale solar costs are still declining, down approximately 11% from last year and average solar prices are down 62% since 2009.
Simply put, even with the massive subsidies that tax payers give the oil industry to keep it profitable ($4.8 billion a year with about half of that going to ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips) solar is the energy of the future, largely because of efficiencies in the supply chain and in photovoltaic technology .
Neither the White House nor the Congress made this change — it came from the market and the math.
Another critical issue where government has provided few real solutions is water scarcity. Like in energy, the good news is that innovation is leading the way. Entrepreneurs are taking fresh water from the air, are developing sensors to identify leaks and contamination and are building new, environmentally friendly ways to desalinate saltwater. As these technologies are adopted by more users the costs will drop dramatically.
There are many examples to be found across many issues and many sectors but almost everywhere you look you will see the most innovative solutions to our most pressing problems are coming from entrepreneurs and from the markets adoption of the tools they create.
American philanthropists are also an engine of innovation — Bill and Melinda Gates have transformed global health, Jeff Skoll has dramatically accelerated social entrepreneurship and Sean Parker is changing the way the world fights cancer.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian who carefully studied America after independence wrote that “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
Let’s not wait for government to “repair our faults.”
It’s up to us.