Jared Diamond was interviewed on the current economic crisis by Paul Solman on Lehrer Newsour, in a segment entitled "Societies and Anxieties", broadcast Friday, 2'14/09.Newshour Archive. Diamond is a brilliant synthesizer of historic, political, economic and environmental factors and how they interplay and determine the fates of societies. His books, Collapse and Guns, Germs & Steel are absolute must reads.
Emphasis in quotes below is mine.
There are elements in American Society that are resistant to making basic changes our [energy and environmental policies] ; there are other elements that are willing to explore changes.
Of all the cultures that you have studied that have tried to deal with severe economic dislocations, what’s the marker of resiliency?
...One of the predictors of a happy versus an unhappy outcome has to do with the role of the elite, or the decision-makers or the politicians or the rich people in the society. If the society is structured so that the decision-makers themselves suffer from the consequences of their decisions then they are motivated to make decisions that are good for the whole society. Whereas, if the decision-makers can make decisions that insulate them from the rest of society then they are likely to make decisions that are bad for the rest of society.
Diamond notes that in New Orleans, for example, the rich lived on higher ground, so the relatively small amount of money it would have taken to prevent the flood was not spent. Compare that to the flood control system in the Netherlands, a wonder of the modern world, where the rich along with everybody else are at risk from catastrophic flooding.
And as to the issue of our current economic dislocation, Solmon suggests that the rich are also currently suffering, Diamond responds that "I would like to see the rich suffer even more and the politicians even more."
Because it would be good for us?
Yes, because they would then be motivated to solve all of our problems and they wouldn’t have the sense that ‘It’ll be okay for us.’
As to the future, Diamond can’t make a forecast because he doesn’t know what people are going to choose to do. He doesn’t know if Obama is going to galvanize support or whether we are going to revert to infighting and stalemate.