"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper".
Yes, that's Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his inaugural speech in 1933 as President of the United States ushering in a 'New Deal' for the American people.
The times they were tough. Over a quarter of the country were out of a job and industry was running at half the capacity of pre-Depression years. Roosevelt's New Deal tried to turn all that around by introducing sweeping reforms which put government back in the driving seat of the economy. From 1933 to 1935 it spent not less than $3.3bn on major public works, adding to the purchasing power of the nation and helping to employ all those jobless Americans.
Did it work? Not really - most economic historians would argue it was the war that finally nailed the Depression, and many, particularly those partial to the later monetary policies of Milton Friedman, would also contend the New Deal in fact delayed business growth through over regulation and by encouraging massive union strikes.
If not a wholly-applauded example of fiscal intervention, the New Deal lingers on as a metaphor for heroic political leadership. If nothing else, it has continued to inspire belief that completely new, large-scale ways of running a nation can not only be imagined, they can also be made real. It's the shift from political aspiration - whether of a free or planned economy - to political intervention that has continued to capture the imagination of many.
Reform of such magnitude certainly required things be bad enough that people were willing to try something radically new. Voters aren't known to change their governments when the economy is riding high. But without a form of audacious leadership to unite the 'imagined community' of the nation around a shared concept - whether of hope, or fear - there is little chance of getting behind the petty, humdrum politicking of everyday government affairs.
George Bush Jnr has known that, inciting the constant threat of terrorism to fund his massive, $650bn military intervention into Iraq these past five years. Barack Obama also knows that, with his Obama For Change campaign making a snail trail to the White House this year.
Which brings us to that current 'diabolical policy problem' we now face as a global political community: climate change.
Australia's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme
This week the Rudd Labor Government in Australia introduced its green paper outlining a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme for adoption in 2010 as Australia's contribution to fighting this global challenge. Though it's a small nation, Australia's contribution matters: it is the world's biggest supplier of coal.
Broadly, the paper etched out a scheme that would see gradual implementation of a new carbon market, funded by the cost of our high-polluting ways. How much our carbon pollution would cost hasn't yet been decided. The decision on who would initially pay for the cost of heavy polluting activities like coal-based electricity, and trade-exposed activities like aluminum smelting has: the electorate, in the form of compensation.
The Rudd government also made clear how it would get this key piece of economic reform past the grubby, populist Nelson Opposition: remove the excise on fuel as part of the package, just as Nelson has been demanding, to ease the pain of increasing petrol costs.
What's also been made abundantly clear is that this Government is firmly committed to fighting climate change primarily as an administrative problem of government.
The day the green paper was launched Rudd said he expected to be attacked by the left, which wants a purist approach, and the right, which denies climate change. "I'll cop that," he announced proudly. That's the kind of visionary leader Rudd wants us to believe he is.
In driving this piece of significant economic reform through hostile camps left and right the moral principle Rudd adheres to is primarily an administrative one: the need to stick to his deadlines. The reform agenda 'guided by the science' that he so emphatically relied upon to boost his green credentials pre-election now takes a back seat; this journey is guided by tricky Treasury modeling of economy-wide impacts and the necessity of political trade-offs.
What those trade-offs mean is that private car transport will be penalised less than public rail, and that the most dangerous sources of carbon emissions, coal-fired electricity generators, will receive a windfall of free permits. Of course, these price signals are not consistent, but tuned to reflect the economic might of key industries, and the need to placate our car-addled society from thinking anything significant actually needs to change.
It is now not even clear how much carbon emissions this new scheme will allow. That's despite the fact that 'the science' here is unambiguous: we have already passed the dangerous level for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Scientists now believe that a 60 per cent cut in Australia's emissions by 2060 will in fact be too low.
In facing the defining challenge of our generation, the Australian Rudd Government is selling us an administratively complex trading scheme as a business-as-usual aspect of normal governance. Whether we do or do not get a reprieve from fuel excise takes centre stage, while thornier questions regarding the ethics of unchecked economic growth fueled by dirty coal are left for the fringe dwellers. Here, Rudd seeks to unite us as a nation around the econometrics of impacts. The language he uses to galvanise us all around the challenge of change is no more heroic than that.
It would seem an appropriate time for our leaders to take up the mantle of the heroic visionary, to unite us around the concept of radical change rather than focus our minds on the impacts of incremental imposts - to act as leader, not chief of operations.
A 'Green New Deal' - one involving tougher regulation of capital, changes to tax systems and a sustained program of investment in energy conservation and renewable energy - is to be launched by the New Economics Foundation in the UK today. There is nothing incremental about this proposed package of reform. It is calling for nothing less than a return to pre-war Keynesianism – complete with big increases in public investment spending and much tighter controls on international finance – with a “war economy” social mobilisation harnessed, this time not towards fighting fascism, or deep economic depression, but towards heading off ecological crisis.
As one of its authors, the Guardian's Larry Elliott, has written "It is worrying and depressing that there is an intellectual vacuum where there ought to be a plethora of ideas about how people ought to dig themselves out of this hole". As the report will no doubt argue, in the spirit of Roosevelt, we need not shrink from honestly facing the challenges of our world today.