Inequality in resources and lack of constructive dialogue about how to solve that and other problems plague the world today, says former President Bill Clinton.
“The world is too unequal to support democracy, freedom, stability and peace in the long run,” Clinton said Wednesday before 2,000 faculty, students, alumni and elected officials at the University at Albany’s SEFCU Arena. “Half of the world’s people live on less than $2 a day.”
Dressed in a three-piece gray suit and blue tie, the 42nd president said too much of the world has little access to quality health care, clean water, food and education. One-quarter of all deaths worldwide this year will be caused by AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, diarrhea and dysentery. The nations of the world must focus on improving everyone’s lot, he said.
Clinton said the world is so interconnected, as proven by how quickly the financial crisis spread from Wall Street to the United Kingdom and how uprisings in the Middle East are spreading from country to country.
“We live in a global village,” he said.
Another big problem facing the world is energy. Ninety-five percent of those who study the issue have concluded that the planet is warming because of human behavior, Clinton said. Global warming will cause serious climate disruption in places like sub-Saharan African and the Caribbean.
Clinton had sought ratification of the Kyoto climate accord during his time in office but it was rejected 95-0 by the Senate.
The energy problem is not going away, Clinton said.
“A really serious effort to change the way we produce and consume energy would produce more jobs, higher income than anything else we could do,” he said.
Clinton credited the University at Albany for its research in nanotechnology, which will drive future innovation.
Countries like China are bypassing the United States, he said. China has recently field tested a bullet train that goes more than 300 miles an hour.
Clinton also lamented the fact that the United States has fallen to 12th in the world in number of students graduating college. It must regain its competitive advantage, he said.
The problem in wealthier countries like the United States is stagnation, he said.
“At some point, people get more interested in what they have in the present than creating the future,” he said. This problem can be seen in the debates over pension contributions and whether more senior teachers should be laid off instead of newer ones.
While there are these big problems to solve, Clinton said the political debate has become so charged in this media climate that everyone in society is at risk of “collective attention deficit disorder.”
He encouraged the students especially not to live in a “fact free” environment but to become informed about issues.
In regard to the current conservative anger directed at government programs, Clinton said there is a role for government, private industry and nongovernmental organizations like his charitable foundation that has delivered AIDS medications to African countries in making the world a better place.
Clinton also defended his record as president, in which he submitted four years of balanced budgets with surpluses. This was achieved, he said, by raising taxes on the rich and implementing “pay as you go” programs in Congress. When George W. Bush became president, the Congress repealed pay as you go and cut taxes on the rich, he said. At the same time, it also waged two wars and implemented a new senior prescription drug program, spiraling the deficit.
He said the bank and auto industry bailouts were necessary to prevent the economies from further free falling. The $800 billion stimulus bill, which has come under attack from conservatives, prevented state governments and school districts from having to lay off thousands of workers and pushing unemployment higher.
“It was never supposed to fix the whole problem. It was supposed to put the brakes on a slide,” he said.
To jump start the economy, banks should start lending more capital, he said. Also, he said, corporations are sitting on billions of dollars in reserves that they need to start reinvesting.
Clinton also said America must get its health care costs under control. Americans spend some 17 percent of their income on health care compared with 10 percent for countries like German and France. That is about a trillion dollars a year that could be going elsewhere in the economy.
Clinton only referenced his impeachment obliquely, saying “I had great relationships with Republicans my last two years in office, except when they were trying to eviscerate me.”
He encouraged college students to stay informed about issues and to get involved.
“Make the most of these years. Go as far as you can. Develop your mind and realize that what we know and what we do with what we know will make all the difference.”
UAlbany junior Russell Wesdorp of Saugerties, a political science and history major, said he liked how Clinton focused on specific plans that the country should implement.
“I think it was productive, informative and really worthwhile.”
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