Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bay Spill, Crises and Public Policy

Listening to an extensive series of interviews yesterday on the Forum show on KQED (Northern California public radio) about the big oil spill in San Francisco bay, I was struck by how strongly crises affect public policy in California, and elsewhere. Crises seem to have become a necessary ingredient for social change to occur.

From this vantage point, using only anecdote and my limited memory, it seems that clear, obvious, well-documented systemic problems are not sufficient to capture the attention of the public or their legislators. Well, I overstate the case. Problems such as millions of uninsured people, indisputable global warming, and widely weakened bridges do reach the attention of the public and their legislators, but for the most part, those systemic problems are not sufficient to result in policy changes.

Instead, we need Hurricane Katrina, dramatic bridge collapses, and killing sprees in highschools to force legislators to pass legislation and appropriate money to address such matters.

The container ship spilling oil into the bay recalls the dramatic massive oil spill of the Exxon Valdez many years back--that crisis resulted in legislation, which according to experts on the Forum show, produced a 90% decrease in the number of oil spills since then.

Crises are clearly the only way we get ethics or campaign finance reform too.

Perhaps this is the problem with health care reform--despite the many horror stories suffered by people without insurance or with inadequate health care access, it is all still at the level of individuals, documented systemically.

Maybe what we need is for a container ship to crash into the bay bridge and spill into the bay hundreds of uninsured middle class Americans on their way to Europe for medical procedures, then we could leverage the passage of universal health care.

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