The leitmotif in many Aspen Ideas Festival sessions has involved various systems and institutions under big, fundamental stress. The world financial system. The world climate/environmental system. The modern media economy/ecology. And lots more.

Yesterday, as part of the Atlantic's role in the Ideas Festival, I got to moderate a discussion among some 30 people who were big shots from public and private realms. The presidents of two of the leading research universities in the world. A sitting governor. The CEO of a major (non-US based) technology firm. Scholars and public officials and financiers and economists and corporate executives and writers. Unlike most of the sessions here (see videos etc at this main page), these mealtime discussions are not on-the-record so I'm not supposed to give a blow-by-blow.

But I can say that at the end of the discussion I asked for a show of hands on a simple good news / bad news question. The question was whether the current economic/political/environmental emergency around the world would be a "successful crisis" or a "failed crisis." That, is would today's sense of emergency lead the United States, in particular, to address some of its fundamental fiscal, political, social, environmental, educational, etc problems, so that it came out of the crisis stronger than it went in? Or would it be a missed opportunity, a "wasted crisis," in which the U.S. system would avoid dealing with any fundamental issues and therefore would come out of the immediate travails in worse shape than when it went in?

The results were three- or four- to one positive. Nearly twenty people voted for the "successful crisis" interpretation; only five or six expected a "failed crisis." This is not proof, and it may be simple wish fulfillment. But I was surprised by the results -- and, how could I help but be? encouraged by them.

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