Robert Pollack: Rethinking Our Vision of Success
How do we understand that our 100,000-fold excess of numbers on this planet, plus what we do to feed ourselves, makes us a tumor on the body of the planet? I don’t want the future that involves some end to us, which is a kind of surgery of the planet. That’s not anybody’s wish. How do we revert ourselves to normal while we can? How do we re-enter the world of natural selection, not by punishing each other, but by volunteering to take success as meaning success and survival of the future, not success in stuff now? How do we do that? We don’t have a language for that.
We do have structures that value the future over current success. I’m at an institution that has one of those structures. Columbia University is one of the most well-endowed universities in the world. That endowment, which is permanent, according to the economic structure of the country, is stable, it produces wealth without taxation, and that wealth is, by government regulation, required to be spent in the public interest. My job is in the public interest, my teaching is in the public interest, my salary comes that way, my sabbatical, which allows me to find the time to talk to you now. The idea of an endowment is perhaps an expandable idea. If I were talking this way, not to you, John, but to the people I hope are watching this, it’s the most wealthy and powerful of them that I wish I was talking to. The more you have, the more you can set aside in a de facto endowment to stabilize the present so that the future doesn’t collapse on us.
That’s not a taxation. That’s not a redistribution. It’s a withholding. It’s an agreement to do with less now for the sake of the future. I don’t see economic structures that do that. I don’t see politics that does that. But I see kids, like those in the street this week, knowing if we don’t do something like that, they don’t have a world.