Why optimism trumps hope
But there is the important issue you were speaking of earlier, that any sort of multilateral, multinational, global governance-type of solution is very much a political hard sell in this country. So, how can we get beyond that? How do we move towards some sort of progress on that front?
Hoffman: The first step is to get out of the recession we’re in. I think that that really causes a problem in this conversation. As for global governance, it’s not clear. We do have global governance in various forms, but we have to be creative. Maybe the UN isn’t the right body to do this. What if it was the WTO? I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean the conversation stops.
Burton: Absolutely not. And moreover the conversation has to recognize what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. I mean, it has to be a realistic conversation not a utopian conversation. What would you do? What would you do if you were Obama?
Hoffman: I don’t know. Now we’re getting a little outside of my area of expertise into international diplomacy and international politics.
Burton: Fair enough. But this is the speculative part of the conversation.
Hoffman: Well, when it comes to academics getting involved in the public debate, I think a good motto is, 'Stick to your knitting.' When I see economists giving opinions on climate science and climate scientists giving opinions on cap and trade, I cringe a little bit and say, 'Stay where you’re an expert before you step into the public debate.'
Jane Fonda should’ve stuck with acting and not gotten involved with nuclear power. I think the same is true with this area. Recommendations on international policy are a little tricky for me.
Burton: OK, but if I’m some guy who’s sitting in Wisconsin or wherever and I’m concerned about these things – I’m worried about my crops, I’m worried about the recession, I’m worried about all sorts of things, as everyone is – what should I do? I hear these calls for a cultural change. I understand that we have to make progress. I understand that we’re politically at some sense of a stalemate: something has to give. But what should I do? How should I go forward?
Hoffman: Well, first of all you don’t come out and say, 'We’re going to change a culture; we’re going to change your values.' No one has that power. You change behavior and values follow – in fact, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. You can have a set of policies and people can start to adopt the values behind them and sometimes they won’t. We had prohibition and it was a disastrous mistake; no one accepted it.
So you try to change behavior and then values will follow. What are the ways to do that? How do we get people to start to think differently? I think it’s starting to happen around certain technologies, certain changes. People are moving more into urban centers now, walk able cities are much more attractive than car habitats. There are some consistent shifts which are happening that foster a better style and standard of living.