A Thousand Points of Light: Some Perils in “Think Global and Act Local” Thinking

A Thousand Points of Light: Some Perils in “Think Global and Act Local” Thinking

October 4th, 2007 | Posted in Business & Economy

I’m at the National Association of Telecommunications Officers annual meeting in Portland. I’m quite impressed with the people, and with what I see many of the cities and counties here doing to keep some level of local and free press available, and to build community networks for everything from economic development to closing digital divides.

But I’m also a little worried. For whatever reason – I think because people want something different than this administration is willing to provide — cities, counties, and states are often acting locally to fill gaps in federal response with local laws that really should be following federal strategies. I can think of a few core areas where this is happening:

One is health care. Many states have their own plans because their citizens are demanding help. Yet we should be dealing with this on a national level, lest we create situations where families can’t easily move between states because they lose health care. A mobile work force is important for the economy, especially for one stressed by as much change as ours.

Another is civil rights around gay partners and sexual orientation. Will couples who are married in one state be willing to move to a state where they have no rights?

A third is immigration. USA today had an article on the front page about some states giving illegal immigrants official ID such as driver’s licenses. The Federal government has expressed its displeasure, by the way, but my guess is that it’s too impotent to do anything about it right now. Imagine a US where immigration is handled significantly differently state to state, remembering that first-world population is generally falling and world population growth is slowing, so we may have a different immigrant problem (attracting immigrants rather than managing them).

Connectivity to the Internet is partially handled state by state. A key message of this conference is that the current strategy we’re using to get broadband to people who need it is failing (the US is 15th to 21st worldwide now, and falling. Internet access here is slower and more expensive than in many other countries). Governments are good players to step in and help, creating competition and lower barriers to entry by owning the infrastructure like we own the roads, and maintaining an open playing field for service providers. States have widely varied rules about government’s role, and many issues are being decided in contentious court battles.

Climate change is being addressed state by state as states are setting standards, such as miles per gallon on cars, which would be much easier for the affected industries to manage on a federal level.

All of these fronts need at least a national strategy if not national laws. Some, like climate change, actually need global strategies. We will slow ourselves down in tackling major problems if we can’t get something that looks more like leadership out of the coming elections. We’ll have a thousand points of light that can’t join together effectively enough to really illuminate the opportunities before us.

About Brenda Cooper

Brenda Cooper has been delivering keynote addresses on the future for over a decade. Her non-fiction has appeared in The Futurist Magazine and on Futurist.com. She is also currently writing a non-fiction series called Backing into Eden, which is being re-published on multiple websites. Her talks are upbeat and positive, and generally focus on how we can solve the big problems facing mankind right now.


  1. Glen Hiemstra   |   Oct 5, 2007

    Brenda, every issue you raise here is front burner. The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein is the most recent book to explore the serious and deliberate agenda to disable the national government by off-loading almost all responsibilities to private entities and localities. Your post explains why this is a real big problem.

  2. Kanna   |   Oct 4, 2007

    Thanks for bringing up the issue of interstate mobility and healthcare. That one is huge. When healthcare is provided by smaller entities like states and employers, it restricts other kinds of mobility, too – like job mobility and income mobility. For example, I recently looked at the income cut-offs for Washington state’s health coverage. The monthly gross income cut-off for a single person is around $1,700 (at that level, you pay about $90 per month for the insurance). I imagine there are plenty of people out there with this coverage, who worry about the day that they make $1,800 and lose their coverage but certainly can’t afford decent private coverage.