Last week I met with one of my heroes, John Whitehead--veteran of D-Day, former Deputy Secretary of State, former co-head of Goldman Sachs, a leader of civic and cultural communities in New York, and universally admired for his integrity, wisdom, and grace. (See Peggy Noonan's July 2008 Wall Street Journal column.) John is a supporter of Common Good, the legal reform nonprofit that I chair, and was also indispensable, when he was Chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, in supporting the Tribute in Light memorial which I helped organize.
Our 75 minute discussion was far-reaching. John is worried about the fiscal stability of our country, and thinks there's a real risk that investors may stop buying Treasury bonds. He sees a country that lacks the political will to balance the budget because no one is willing to eliminate or adjust outdated and unaffordable programs (see my June 22nd post). Subsidies and entitlements pile up over the decades until there's no money left to meet new needs. He fears growing deficits will precipitate a crisis.
The discussion then turned to the strategy for Common Good. We have a number of concrete initiatives that have gained traction among leaders in different fields, and he seemed encouraged that President Obama had written a letter to Congress specifically mentioning our proposal to create special health courts (developed jointly with the Harvard School of Public Health, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Only when doctors trust justice to distinguish between good care and bad care will we have a chance of saving the $100-$200 billion per year that is wasted in defensive medicine.