It’s amazing how many of the Big Problems could be solved simply. But those in the position to make those decisions don’t do simplicity. Unless, perhaps, the solution (once found) is so simple and obvious everyone adopts it immediately.
I appreciate that when there are special interests, lobbyists, and campaign contributors to satisfy, simple problems are the hardest to come up with… and in the USA in particular, cross-party alliances for the greater good seem to have died with Roosevelt. But when it comes to simple solutions, competing interests aren’t the biggest blockage.
The bigger problem with simple solutions is that you’ve got to make one change… and then not interfere with what happens next. And for today’s politicians, not interfering is the hardest thing of all.
However, executional factors aside, I believe that despite the multiplicity of complex drivers, every Big Problem has a simple solution. There’s ONE enabling factor that would release pent-up potential and open the gates for all related problems to be solved…. key word: ‘enabling‘.
In some cases, the simple solution is obvious. For example, take Israel vs Palestine: it’s All About Jerusalem. Sharing a couple of mouldering rocks in the Old Town; that’s what this thousand-year-old problem is ultimately all about. For others, the simple solution is buried in behaviour or legislation sometimes centuries old.
Here’s my list. The principle: make the change, then let go.
Iran. A solution to “the Iran problem” is exceptionally simple: show some respect. Persian culture is ancient and fascinating; this huge and deep nation just wants us to take it seriously, with Ahmedinejad the (somewhat deranged) voice of this ‘tude. I thought Obama was the man that’d do this, but he’s got off to a bad start. You don’t have to like someone to respect him.
The financial crisis. The solution here is deep – but simple. The Bank of England (and its counterparts elsewhere) has few instruments to influence the economy: interest rates, quant easing. Let’s add one more: a rolling ability to set banks’ required capital ratio. When the economy starts overheating, turn up the ratio. When it starts sloping downward, ease up. This simple solution (nominally free of political interference, like Gordon Brown’s one good idea of letting the BoE set interest rates) would smooth peaks and troughs in the economic cycle and put bankers in their place.
American healthcare. The solution here is brilliantly simple: kill the tax perk attached to health insurance. This distorting tax break, originally designed to encourage employers to provide insurance, takes $250bn a year out of the US Treasury – not far off the entire cost of Medicare per year at present. The resulting effects, as fewer employers provide insurance, would be to increase incentives for insurers to offer affordable personal plans, currently out of reach for anyone earning below $50K. In turn, more insured people would reduce the distortions of uninsured people arriving in emergency rooms, encouraging preventive treatment and earlier, cheaper interventions. The total cost savings would enable the only national health solution palatable to US voters: a cheap government-backed insurance for the unemployed. Costs down, revenues up, a raft of new business opportunities, and 100% population coverage. Simple.
Closer to home, Scottish independence. The solution for Scotland is simple. Just let them do it! Seriously: give ’em their share of the debt (Hellooo, RBS!) and cut the apron strings that shower endless English taxpayers’ money onto Edinburgh. This nation of five million people contains perhaps 150,000 actual taxpayers; it has serious self-inflicted health issues and is almost entirely reliant on Westminster’s largesse. Take that largesse away, give Scotland independence, and what’s the betting they’ll be on their knees wanting to rejoin the Union within a decade. Problem solved.
British education suffers two Big Problems: crap schools and underfunded universities. As usual, both caused by Labour governments. (Socialists never understand the Law of Unintended Consequences, not being capable of seeing further than their own noses.) Both can be solved with one simple solution: the International Baccaleareate.
The English school curriculum is cluttered and prescriptive: telling teachers what to do, yet preventing them actually doing it. It focusses far too much on top-of-Maslow’s-Pyramid stuff like self-actualisation and diversity, before the basics of reading and writing are embedded. Employers constantly complain of remedial maths and English for supposedly bright candidates. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of British kids are missing a university place this year, since providing such an education costs more than the £3K/yr the universities are allowed to charge. While all universities remain open to ‘international’ students able to pay a market rate.
The IB is a general qualification covering a range of subjects taken at 18 – a ‘real’ education, instead of the politically-correct GSCE (where being unable to reach the correct answers does not deny you a pass) and the over-simplified ‘A’ Level (now offered in subjects including Photography and Hairdressing.) The teenage holder of an IB is a Decent Citizen, capable of writing a plain declarative sentence and solving a simultaneous equation with a working knowledge of history and the great stories across cultures. A sense of ‘place’, lacking in so many young Britons today (and responsible for their poor social skills.)
Equipped with an IB, British students would compete as ‘internationals’ (nothing’s more racist than denying a place based on passport not ability) and would get offered places based entirely on their abilities, as it should be. They get charged the same rates as international students; paying for it is their problem. (This solution is about improving education, NOT improving ‘access’ – another New Labour straw man put up to cover their hatred of the middle class.) The simple solution here is to make the IB the basis of schooling in the UK.
And, of course, there’s an obvious one for Africa.
Big Problems, simple solutions. There are plenty of them; I think I’ll add to this post over the coming weeks.