Leaders may recognize that they are not addressing the real problems, but they rationalize their actions with the argument that they must first politically survive in order to later address the hard problems and sacrifices. Of course, they usually don’t ever actually get around to addressing the fundamental problems later, either because they don’t make it through the initial crisis or because, even later, they are not willing to risk sacrificing their own position (or “career”) with needed measures that usually require tough sacrifices by the population.
It is short-term thinking and decision-making that is the most universal factor leading to collapse. Yet, such short-cycle evaluation is a fundamental characteristic, and a basic strength, of both democracy and capitalism. In democracy, the competition which “short-cycle evaluation” generates in government, and the limited tenure of leaders, assures responsiveness to the needs of the people and a protection against oppression.
However, such competition, and the expensive campaigning that it entails, has led to an unrealistic evaluative process that consistently sets aside long-term problems and consequences in order to try to achieve some short-term successes, so as to survive reelection in two, four or six-year cycles. The result is a growing burden of multiple long-term problems in the decades to come.
No society can sustain unlimited growth – none ever has. History demonstrates that expectations of infinite growth lead to collapse. Unfortunately, millennia of evidence also indicates that needed attempts to stabilize such societies run counter to the expectations of the populace and of interest groups. For that reason, such attempts at stabilization frequently fail.
With apologies to the green movement, “sustainability” is a myth. History and archaeology show that societies are always moving to the edge of crisis, “falling forward” through growth, but then responding (often successfully) to the problems created.
What we can hope for is that with a somewhat more controlled level of growth, and with longer-term preparations for change, we can keep responding to the inevitable smaller crises, as they arise, and continue to postpone until later and later the (perhaps ultimately inevitable) end of our civilization.
The answers and specific policies will only begin to emerge after voters and workers, as well as politicians and CEOs, lower their expectations a bit for prosperous societies to a somewhat lower level of growth (and opulence). As voters and stockholders, we need to expect less of our leaders and we need to begin thinking in terms of longer periods, and slower processes, for judging success.
Such an ideology of long-term thinking and lower expectations — a change in world “attitude”— seems to me to be the only way out of the 21st century giant and precarious “bubble” that now is Western civilization.