Pollsters told us before - and voters are telling us now - that everyone is unhappy. The general alienation is obvious, not only with respect to government, but to most of our institutions - banks, the church, health insurers, media, unions, corporations. Nothing seems to work. Accordingly, the public's mantra is: Change!
The ultimate irony is that change is the cause of most of our problems. The change we are experiencing is not normal change, but rapid, dramatic, complex change. And it's taking place in many sectors - health care, energy, corporate governance, financial services, telecommunications.
The impact on citizens of such disruptive change is at best disorienting; at worst, inexplicable.
The best example of such disruption is in the employer-employee relationship. In the past, the productive American worker could count on some degree of job security, periodic wage increases, promotions, affordable health-care coverage, and a reliable pension plan that could mathematically produce retirement security. These conditions no longer exist - a disconcerting change.
Disruptive change, and public policy's failure to respond to it, is making citizens unhappy with their lives, and with some justification. We hear, "I'm working as hard as I can, but I can't make ends meet," or, "I want to work, but I can't find a job." The richest nation in the world doesn't appear capable of responding to these facts.
A new framework for managing change, to minimize stress and maximize opportunity, is called for. A key insight is that problems stemming from new, complex developments cannot be dealt with by policies, programs, and agencies from a different, simpler time.
Examples abound. Our current banking problems and the recent near-meltdown of the financial sector should not be a surprise. Most of the governing laws, regulations, and agencies come from the era of the Great Depression. Should we have expected that they could cope with credit default and interest rate swaps, and other exotic derivative products that most people don't even understand?
In a similar vein, our employment-based health-insurance system was created in World War II to add benefits in an era of wage controls. But American businesses now compete with others around the world that don't have to roll the cost of such coverage into the price of products and services, putting Americans at a disadvantage. The world has dramatically changed, but our policies haven't.
Our continuing dependence on fossil fuels from unstable and unfriendly nations - or unsafe domestic sources such as the ruptured BP well in the Gulf of Mexico - highlights an energy policy oblivious to its burden on the military, the economy, and the environment.
This disconnect between policy and reality has resulted in the not totally inaccurate perception that "nothing works." The ironic result, best illustrated by the tea-party movement, is fierce opposition to the very thing we need most: systemic change to more effectively align policy with current conditions. People are supporting the status quo that's visiting hardship on them, when they should be arguing for fundamental, transformational restructuring.
Support for President Obama's efforts on health care, energy, financial services, and immigration should be the order of the day. People who purport to be policy leaders must muster the intellectual courage to question time-honored "truths" that no longer work. The alternative will lead us into a swamp of despair and frustration.