Opinion

Destiny and governmental decision-making

Posted July 23

There are incontrovertible facts that dictate results in society: some demographic, others environmental. Facts should be a baseline for decisions. Leaders should act with basic, known information to get the best results. For the squishy stuff — policy direction — healthy debate can lead to different approaches. Today, too many leaders are willing to ignore facts and honest debate in favor of poll-driven language — to our communities’ and country’s detriment.

A common saying among policy analysts is “demographics is destiny.” They mean that certain facts about our population should serve as an agreed-upon baseline in information about our future. For example, based on the number of births and people in different age groups, we can predict the need for the number of classrooms or demand for aging services years in advance.

Many investments take years to implement, like schools for a growing population of children. Similarly, when we invest in infrastructure like transportation, it takes years to plan for, design and build roads, train tracks and airports.

Decisions for the future must venture beyond the known facts to policy choices about how to reach a desired outcome. These decisions are based in values and principles. They require more educated guesses with analysis, policy options and input from the public.

Elderly health care nationally, our Medicare system, has known demographic and economic factors. We then have choices about adjustments that can be made to avoid bankrupting the system. We know the factual elements of the system: numbers of people and incoming revenue. Decision-makers can adjust the policy factors. Because the decisions are politically volatile, Congress has gone years without deciding on approaches, an example of its dysfunction.

There is another arena for our destiny that is inescapable: our natural environment. I’d say our demographics and environment are our destiny. Humans are dependent on the air we breathe, the water we drink and a sustainable food supply. The atmosphere surrounding the earth creates the hydrologic cycle for our water, the insulation for our earth’s heating and cooling and the chemistry for our breathing. The basic forces that make up our atmosphere have been well-understood for more than 100 years. We face challenges globally from human impacts on the earth’s atmosphere.

Every year we better understand the makeup and functions of our climate and the effects from human-created carbon emissions. Whether it is the water supply from snowpack in the Wasatch mountains or sea-level rise in Florida, the basic facts aren’t debatable. To ignore the realities of the atmosphere and the impacts from human carbon emissions, we ignore destiny as certain as the number of children in society that will need education or the number of elderly who will need health services.

How we intelligently decide what we leave for our children and grandchildren is important for all of us. We have societal free agency to affect our destiny with the best information and smartest decisions. While we can’t consistently predict the future or always make the right decisions, we know certain facts that will shape the future. Failure to tackle tough issues because they are difficult should not be acceptable. Today’s leaders should intelligently, comprehensively address our destiny with plain talk and public debate. Let’s elect people who listen and work clear-eyed together to help us have a quality future based on what we know with debate on how to reach healthy ends.

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