Here are some things that I'd like to hear in tomorrow's inaugural speech. In the interest of restraint, I've listed only a couple of things that I'd like to hear Obama say. Imagine this in his voice.
It is of little use to have a great house in a dangerous and ugly neighborhood. I think that the Bush administration intuited correctly that we cannot live in isolation from the rest of the world, indifferent to the suffering of AIDS patients in Africa or the outrage of religious fundamentalists in the Middle East.
But what seemed to be missing in that great effort to address the rest of the world’s problems is the creation of a dialogue with the rest of the world about how best to do that. We can’t just assume that the path to progress is in our wake. I think that we can be a model of what is possible without being the blueprint of what must be. We cannot – and should not – assume that the rest of the world wants to be like us. Progress has always been about increased autonomy – the ability to more fully aspire to the life of one's own choosing. Progress is not really about imitation or following dictates. If we do want to encourage progress, this means that we’ll include other countries – indeed, other groups – in the conversation about what it means to create a better world.
The choice is not between withdrawal from the rest of the world or dictating. We are citizens of the world – not its dictator. In my administration we’ll choose to participate, not dictate.
And I want to talk about a different kind of economic progress.
For too long we’ve confused quantity of goods with quality of life. Whether we look at the current financial crisis that has stemmed from a excess of debt or the threat of climate change, it seems increasingly obvious that the path towards happiness that goes through more and more and more is simply not sustainable. Making the shift from quantity of goods to quality of life as a measure of economic progress might be the most difficult, yet important, task before us.
It was only about 100 years ago that we began to systematically measure things like GDP and incomes and savings and consumption at the national level, measures that helped to shape policy and track its efficacy. We formalilzed our focus on quantity of goods. Through this we have learned a great deal and made real progress.
Now we have to do something similar with quality of life. We need to craft a new set of measures that go more directly towards the happiness of the citizenry. Adding new measures to what we track may sound trivial but it is the first step towards real change.
As part of this move from quantity to quality, we need to move beyond the narrow definition of economic goods as simply referring to goods to have. Our lives become meaningful not from what we take but from what we give: work matters. Whether this be in the form of public service and volunteer work or jobs that give pride in work, a really developed economy is able to create good jobs and not just good products. It gives us more goods to have AND more goods to do.
Towards this end, we’re going to measure more than consumption to know how we’re doing. Among other things, our policies are going to target job creation. And not just jobs for people engaged in computer programming or biological research. Jobs for factory workers and construction specialists, blue collar and white collar workers as well as a new and growing group of green collar workers who'll help to define new industries that address climate change and dependence on oil.