Clinton visited the DePauw University campus Friday as part of the Ubben Lecture series and its 25th anniversary. But for all he has done that has changed the world, as introductory speaker, DePauw alum and close friend Vernon Jordan said, Clinton acted as though there was still much left to do.
"It's easy to get weighed down by all the difficulties, but man I would love to be 21 years old," Clinton said. "The problems of the world are real and profound, but this is an exciting time to be alive."
But he admitted it wouldn't be easy. It may in fact require an entire reboot of the way things are done and handled in the country. But in order to get something done, the question isn't what you want to do, it is how you are going to do it, Clinton said. And one of the solutions is to build systems that generate consistent success and can be updated easily.
"You should be thinking of how to reform a system," Clinton said.
According to Clinton, there are three main problems with the way things are in the United States. Things are too unequal, too unstable and too unsustainable. In his travels around the world to different countries, nations, cities and towns, he said that inequality is one of the most vexing and wide-spread issues facing the world today.
Inequality is driven by a lack of opportunity. Clinton said there are children in Africa as smart as any other person, but because they do not have access to the systems people in America take for granted. It is for this reason 25 percent of people who die every year are killed by the "diseases of the poor" such as cholera and dysentery, Clinton said. The lack of access to systems that generate education, health and financial gain generate an unequal situation.
Unstable situations arise when one side gets too much leverage. This is what Clinton said helped to lead to the U.S. financial crisis.
"There has to be a risk of failure for a possibility of success," Clinton said. "If there was no risk we would all vegetate. If there's too much it becomes like a computer virus that's impossible to control."
A system that effectively fights human nature can prevent instances like the financial crisis from happening again, but it takes more than just a system. People sacrificed the future to gain more in the present, a character flaw Clinton said must be changed. The unstableness creates fear and affects other issues as well, such as immigration, which has appalled Clinton for its over-the-top discussion.
Unsustainability speaks to the change in climate. Other countries have made attempts to fix the problem, or must deal with it in different ways. Clinton's favorite example is with Brazil. In many ways, it is a growing country, using new energy sources to help power its cities, particularly hydropower. However, the biggest source of hydropower is along the Amazon River, and building a plant requires tearing down rainforest. Building other hydro plants outside of the rainforest also pushes the soybean farmers, herders and other residents toward the rainforest, where they begin to cut it down in order to build homes.
When solving the problem, they asked Clinton for his advice.
"They had a different attitude, they wanted to figure it out," Clinton said, noting that it brought many different kinds of people together to work for the same cause.
Solving the problems of the world will require a different kind of thinking, effort, cooperation and the desire to make changes. Those who do this are the most successful countries today and throughout history, Clinton said. The U.S. doesn't have to be the military superpower it once was, but it can be a significant force for change and lead the way in other aspects, but it has to start by setting an example of smart decision-making in the government.
Clinton said he hopes to see a few things happen before he dies: cooperation over confrontation, the ability to visit Haiti as just a tourist and the solution to the energy crisis to name a few. But America, and other parts of the world, need to change the way they think and be willing to work for it.
"You need to know what you want the world to look like when the next students graduate from DePauw," Clinton said.