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Political Leaders: Step Back! Let the Pros Do It!

By Shlomo Maital

  Ladies and gentlemen, golf fans! Here we are, on the 18th green, at the legendary Master’s tournament. Byron Putput has a 30-foot put for birdie, to win the Green Jacket and the championship. He’s thinking. He’s looking. He’s planning… all his 24 years of golfing are going into this crucial put! The fans are silent. The tension is palpable.

   But wait. Here comes… Donald Trump. Yes, Donald Trump. POTUS, he’s called, President of the United States. Yes, fans, he is shoving aside Byron. Executive privilege, he says. Trump himself will take the put. He pulls a putter out of the golf bag – but wait, it is not a putter, but an iron. He’s going to do the put with an iron!  

     Oh my gosh. Is this really happening?

     ……. No, it’s not. Or is it? Reopening the US economy is, “I would say, without a doubt, that it is the most important decision I have ever had to make,” Trump said three days ago. First person singular. I. Not ‘we’.   And he doesn’t even have the authority to decide, it is really up to the state governors.

       Let’s make some sense out of this. Giora Eiland is Major General (ret.) Israel Defense Forces. Eiland is a former head of the Israeli National Security Council. Speaking on Israeli Radio, he made this point:

     In the pandemic, Israel (and every country) is at war. This requires mobilization of all our energy, skills, wisdom and resources. Israel has done this, alas, numerous times in the past. But how? As we do in wartime, as US and UK did in wartime. Set up a panel of experts. NOT politicians! In health, economy, education, psychology, science, medicine. Put them in a room. Let them define the issues, then divide up according to “comparative advantage” and work out alternatives and plans. Nonstop. Round the clock. Sleep on cots in the room or nearby.

     Israel’s Ministry of Health has disastrously mismanaged the issue of performing COVID-19 testing. And testing, by all experts, is key to emerging from quarantine. The IDF (army) could have done it faster, better, more professionally. But internal political squabbles between Israel’s Prime Minister and the Defense Minister (whom the PM hates), Netanyahu’s nemesis, prevented this. Too bad. We are paying the price today.

     Trump will not take the final put at the Master’s golf tournament. A pro golfer will do that. Why are we letting him, or Netanyahu, or Macron, or Johnson, take the lead in managing the epidemic? Step back politicians. Step aside. Let the professionals manage this war. Because you politicians do not have a clue.

   One possible exception: NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo. In his amazing daily briefings, he shows a wonderful grasp of data, curves, expert opinion, trends, and illustrates his talks with informative slides and graphs. But this exception proves the rule.  

Yuval Noah Harari: 21 lessons for the 21st C

By Shlomo Maital

Yuval Noah Harari

   Historian Yuval Noah Harari has written two smash hit books: Sapiens (about the past – a huge bestseller, a vest pocket overview of human history and progress) and Homo Deus (about mankind’s future ). Now comes his third – about the present.

The book was reviewed by none other than Bill Gates, in The New York Times (Sept. 1-2).

   The structure of the book is very well organized: Part I. The Technological Challenge (disillusionment, work, liberty, equality), Part II. The Political Challenge (community, civilization, nationalism, religion, immigration), Part III. Despair and Hope. (Terrorism, war, humility, God, secularism)   Part IV   Truth. (ignorance, justice, post-truth, science fiction) and Part V. Resilience (education, meaning meditation).

   Harari writes in his introduction: What are today’s greatest challenges and most important changes? What should we pay attention to? What should we teach our kids?

     As Bill Gates notes, Harari does not really offer ‘lessons’, prescriptions or solutions in depth, but instead, helps formulate the key questions – far more valuable, I believe. And he is basically optimistic. True, globalization (the amazing system of cooperation among nations, in which goods, services, ideas, technology, money and people flow freely among countries, driven by opportunity) is under assault. But it is irreversible and Gates notes, “though we took two steps backward in the past two years [since Trump’s election in 2016] before that we took a thousand steps forward.”

     So why does it seem that the world is in decline? Because, Gates rightly observes, “we are much less willing to tolerate misfortune and misery”. And, he might have added, because the enormous resonating sound board of the media obsessively harps on the bad news, because it seems that is what brings them eyes and ears and ratings (and ad money).

   One prediction of Harari that I think is correct:  In the past, land was the source of wealth, then, machinery, then, technology and creativity – and today? It is, he says, data. It is as if social media mine our data (gold) for free, collect it (for free), then sell it directly and indirectly for a high price.

   Harari thinks social media create political polarization, because they help people build cocoons, interacting only with ‘friends’ who share their views and consume only information they like and agree with, even if false.

   Gates, still a hard worker, wants Harari to address THE fundamental question – when machine learning, artificial intelligence and other technologies give us longer, happier, wealthier lives, with little or no human labor – where will we find meaning in our lives? Why get up in the morning?  

     Perhaps that world is hard for us to imagine today. Perhaps we will have to deal with it in real time – if and when it happens.           

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital