Senator Bill Bradley: Lack of Long-Range Planning Is Putting Our Future at Risk

Former US Senator Bill Bradley believes a better tomorrow is within our grasp, despite the economic pain that the middle class is experiencing today.

He wrote his new book We Can All Do Better to address the growing despondency and resentment he sees among Americans. With the right vision, leadership, and civic participation, he believes we can work our way back to prosperity and growth.

Chris was honored and excited to speak with the former Senator, particularly to uncover what awareness there is of the Three Es among our top political leaders. Not surprising for a longtime insider, Senator Bradley looks through the lens of working within the current system -- i.e., if we can fix its shortcomings, it will solve our problems. Potential structural limits to growth, such as Peak Oil, are less bright on the radar.

There is much to learn here about what our Congressional leaders are focused on and what they are not. Listeners will undoubtly find points to agree with, and possibly others that are out-of-alignment with the concerns presented in the Crash Course. We expect an animated discussion to ensue in the Comments section below.

We take it as a good sign that widely-known veteran politicians such as Senator Bradley are increasingly standing up to admit "there is a problem" -- that's the first step towards taking corrective action. And we're very thankful for the time the Senator has given to speak to our community.

On What's Missing Most from the System Today

I think politicians generally have been viewed anywhere from humorously to angrily by citizens at various times in our history. I think right now we have a very specific problem and that is we have had a long run as the dominant country in the world, as the country where people come in order to make a better living because the economy is dynamic enough and there are far sighted investments made. I mean whether it was Lincoln doing land grant colleges and transcontinental railroad. Or Eisenhower doing the federal highway system or varieties of other examples. We have had times where we are able to think long term and we simply need to do that now. We need to do that because if we don’t we are going to have problems down the road that will potentially endanger our status as the number one economy in the world. 

On Money in Politics

The Dodd Frank Bill is an improvement, but it didn’t deal with the basic question. I mean it is pretty simple: limit leverage, increase capital, divide the investment bank function from the commercial bank function and you are back in the business. You have an economy that is growing, you have people who are able to invest over the long term. And the financial system now is really not functioning as well as it could. I think you mentioned the five public policy errors that put us into the mess in 2007/2008. If we are going to seriously address the health of our financial system we are going to need to do the things that I just mentioned. I think that the key point here is what prevents us from doing that. That is where I get the money and politics. For example, in 2009 and 2010, those two years the financial sector, financial industry contributed $318 million to people in Washington, politicians in Washington. And so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we got a watered down financial reform bill instead of dealing with the basic questions, as you said. We kind of hid the fact we were not dealing with the basic questions in a morass of complicated regulatory and legal verbiage. I think that what we need to do is we need to peel back and address the basic questions that you raised in terms of leverage, in terms of capital adequacy, in terms of the investment bank function versus the banking function. I think the time should be over where large mega banks that in 1990 had 10% of the financial assets in this country and now have 75% of the assets speculate with depositors money. 

I do think money is at the core of the problem. You have mentioned and we have talked about all of the changes that could have been made that weren’t made and all the mistakes that were made since the mid 90’s. Well if you go from 1990 to 2010 you have the financial industry contributed $2 billion to politicians in Washington. Because the Supreme Court says that money is speech and you can’t limit speech therefore you can’t limit money. The only way you can deal with this issue is by making a constitutional amendment that says the federal, state, and local government may limit the amount of money spent in a political campaign. It is that simple. 

On What's Needed for Economic Recovery

There is no question that we have to both cut spending and increase taxes. The key is you don’t want to do that in the next year or two because that would make our economy worse; fewer people working, the deficit is bigger. What you want to do is you want to address the structure of programs such as Social Security. If you increase the retirement age from 67 to 69 over 50 years, well that is not going to have an impact on the budget this year or next year but it is definitely going to change your numbers of what it costs the taxpayer. And I think that we have to have that kind of far range thinking. I think that we need taxes in this country that are I think that those who have more should pay more, for example. But we also need to have a tax system that taxes things more than employment.

Right now 40% of federal revenues comes from Social Security tax, Medicare and unemployment taxes. And if we simply funded those programs with a tax on things, say aluminum, paper, various other products like that and inefficient buildings and cars. If you did that you would be able to have a tremendous incentive for people to hire. You would still preserve the programs but you would liberate the private sector to do what it needs to do which is hire more people at better wages. 

Given that political discussion often brings out strong emotions on all sides, we remind everyone that we take a politically-agnostic approach here at Peak Prosperity. Please make any comments as objectively and fact-based as possible.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Senator Bill Bradley (24m:42s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

…someone I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing a bit.
Bill Bradley is a Senator so not the Bill Bradley the basketball player who I followed and enjoyed very much. Great TEAM the Knicks.

Senators get paid $174,000 bucks

Senators on average spend over $7 million to get elected ($6,826,000 bucks are owed to someone)

Senators average wealth is $14,000,000 bucks

Senator Bradley is a good guy I'm sure, all our senators are.

Senators are money grabbers (by trade), sold their collective souls many years ago (logically deduced), are part of the elite (dah!), never, ever, have they considered segregating tax payer funded dollars for programs like Social Security, gasoline tax or any other tax that supports specific programs. These are general fund ear marks and nothing more. So, I guess I'm saying that Mr. Bradley is sadly a part of the problem, speaks eloquently the speak, and is not ever going to be part of the solution. Sadly. It's the same with his fraternity so Mr. Bradley has company.

Other than that what a charming man.

One question Chris, did Mr. Bradley call you for this interview and book promotion or does he just love our site and wanted to help spread truths? 

Note: The numbers I represented where just quick googles that were rounded up or down.

Can senators still take insider information and call their bookies, oops sorry, their stock brokers? Or is the signal  rubbing your nose with your index finger up or down on a particular bill? Think Redford and Newman.

I will NOT consider buying his book, and I read just about everybody. Why? Cookie cutter prints like all others of his ilk. Loved the basketball player though. Very transparent and honorable profession where he excelled. Unlike today's game where the fix is on based on ratings (Miami were under dogs, Really!. Who said?), and that is a whole different podcast.

Respectfully Given

Go Tigers



Senator Bradley has a few good ideas.  However, he seems woefully out of touch with the reality of America's situation – the massive debt levels, the distorted FIRE economy, the massive financial fraud, etc.  He offers mostly big government Keynesian solutions.  If a smart guy like Senator Bradley doesn't get it, then I doubt many other "mainstream" folks will get it either.  At some point there will be a Great Default and/or a rise in interest rates and the times will not be pleasant.     

I am impressed that Chris got an interview with former Senator Bradley.  I am very UN-impressed by what Bradley said.  His main prescription for recovery seems to be a Federal Government program (spend big bucks) to get business hiring again, primarily through “infrastructure” projects.  After those temporary construction jobs end we might gain a few permanent jobs because our infrastructure is better.  I’m not buying it
As Chris said at the beginning of the interview, you have to remember three little words, “too much debt”.  It is a matter of debt saturation.  Until that issue is resolved, we are stalled in stagnation at best.  Total debt in the US is $54.6 trillion.  That includes personal, business, and government – local, state, and federal.  (It doesn’t include unfunded liabilities like Social Security.).  Debt has grown much faster than GDP, which is our national income of $15.5 trillion.  The graph below shows Total Debt and GDP since 1960, both indexed to 1983.  You can see that since 1983 debt grew over 800% while GDP (the income to support that debt) grew 350%.  Making the payments on those debts is sucking the life out of the economy.

The slow process of paying down our debts is a painful prospect, but it sure beats the financial catastrophe that will result if we don’t.


Mr Bradley seemed articulate, caring and out of touch with Mr. And Mrs. Middle America. He stated that “last summer” he was struck by the debt limit debacle and grasped that many of us are struggling. (I paraphrased as I don’t know how to use the boxes on an ipad yet). Many affluent people have trouble comprehending the gravity of what we in the middle class are going through. Also, when a politician or even an ex-politician starts promoting a constitutional ammendment I personally get nervous to point of feeling sick to my stomach. With the multitudes of lobbyists, special interst groups, corporations and corrupt politicians all providing input I have zero faith that an ammendment would be passed that would be to solely benefit Mr. & Mrs. Middle America. Who know what cockamamy and convoluted garbage would be in an ammendment and I for one think opening that door would be a mistake. I am still agast that the NDAA was signed. Isn’t the best predictor of future behavior - past behavior.
I would like to read others opinions on the constitutional ammendment idea.
Barbara (AKGrannyWGrit)

After the first world war Germany was saddled with debt. Hitler used the only asset he had. His people. The Volk. Arbeit macht frei. In two years time I will witness my second doubling of the population. What was an asset becomes a liability.

If you have got people you have got trouble. You have got to get rid of the people.

Joseph Stalin.

What flumoxes me is that brilliant scientists working on a replacement for oil energy cannot get so much as a pittance from the purse. This truely has the hoofprint of Satan in the butter.

Given the choice between a conspiracy and an error of judgement go with the error of judgement. But this is just so evil that it has to be a conspiracy.

A whole talk about the future without one reference to "The Limits to Growth."  Which should have been titled "The Limits to Growth on the Planet."

I usually listen to or read the entire transcript but I just couldn't do it this time. The only politician that "gets it" is Ron Paul, I don't even think Rand Paul "gets it" any more. I just don't see any way to fix our problems as the mainstream voter believes the government/media BS. The only problem with a Constitutional amendment is that congress will write it with plenty of loopholes for them to keep getting their graft. As long as the only entity that can prosecute a congressman for an ethics violation is the congress, we will always have a corrupt congress. And the majority of voters will keep singing that old song, "He may be a crook but he's our crook" and we'll keep going down the road to a failed police state.

Bill Bradley, US Senator from 1979 to 1997.Debt accumulation has now come to the here and now.
Nice job.
Watch your step it's a long way down.
Way to be a forward thinker, to have managed our affairs so well that we now face financial armeggedon.
Thank you so much for managing our infrastructure all these years.
Thank you so much for stealing the savers and responsible ones hard earned cash so that the elite among us can have their senior debts secured before the peasantry. 
Thank you so much for all your service to those who managed your career.
Please, please leave us alone now. I think we'll mange quite nicely without you now.

I was likewise disappointed that Mr. Bradley's solution seems to be more big government spending combined with an unrealistic view of the crisis of entitlement obligations.  I was encouraged by the comments.  I think folks on this site "get it".  There is no way to sustain our present level of spending.  Period.  Infrastructure spending is great and very needed, but to fund that we'll need to cut programs that many have come to rely on as their only source for survival.  That is tragic.  We now have a system where charity comes from an impersonal, disinterested bureaucracy whose primary objective is securing their own employment.  Good luck reducing that.  I'd love to see reductions in military spending also, but again, I'm not optimistic for that. 
Also, I'm tired of hearing that we need to "raise taxes" to increase revenue.  Yes we could use more revenue, but raising taxes isn't going to do that.  Not that they won't try, but by penalizing hard work you will get fewer citizens working hard.  Our current system has about half of the voting population paying no federal income taxes.  Meanwhile, I'm spending about half my income (pay my own and employer share of Medicaid/SS taxes, etc)  on taxes. 

It will take someone (or several someones) of uncommon courage in a position of political power to direct us through this predicament because the steps necessary will not be pleasant or popular. 

I am with Travlin on this one.  Bradley is stuck in the past.  Travlin's comments at the end really drive home how difficult our situation is;

"Making the payments on those debts is sucking the life out of the economy.

The slow process of paying down our debts is a painful prospect, but it sure beats the financial catastrophe that will result if we don’t."

Realize that we can't even begin to pay down the debts until and unless we reach a point where we are living within our means (tax revenues) and actually creating a surplus.  Today we can't even make meaningful cuts to the giant 40% + deficits we create.  Seeing the situation clearly I, like Travlin and I'm sure many others here would make a huge sacrifice to put our country back on the right path...   20% one time tax on my net worth to get rid of the FED, return to open and fair markets, reinstate Glass-Steagal, get Corp. money out of politics, and allow insolvent banks to fail and crony criminals to be prosecuted?  You bet I would.  Odd isn't it how one's brightest fantasy can include a 20% haircut, eh? 

Many much larger haircuts will be taken by those unprepared for what is to come…   and that is just the financial suffering.         

The Bill Bradley I was hoping would show up was the one that is now retired from politics, safely tucked into a private sector job and willing to speak up with the incisive and biting insights of a former insider.
Instead he sounded like a man with an eye on a future political position; careful, status quo, centrist view were on offer.

Worse, he confirmed for me that it is possible to spend a lot of time both on the inside and the outside and apparently not really understand the nature of the predicament.   Anybody who thinks we are going to legislatively nip and tuck our way back to robust health is just, well, on a completely different page from the facts as I understand them.

I too would sacrifice a lot to get us back on the right path but, unfortunately, I can't see that happening because I simply don't trust any of the people currently in power.  For example, if DC said "we need to impose a $2/gallon gas tax that will be used to completely overhaul our energy infrastructure" I would, on the surface, be for that idea.  However I wouldn't support it because my belief is that the monies that came in would instead be diverted to silly wars, pork projects, and otherwise diverted and wasted.

You know, exactly what happened to the receipts from the doubled SS taxes imposed back in 1988 that were, theoretically, supposed to fix that system 'forever.'  Instead the excess monies were rolled into the general obligation fund and spent, never to be seen again.

So DC has an enormous credibility (trust) issue with me that I would really hope someone like Bill Bradley could at least address.  That ultra-low congressional approval rating is there for a reason…

Look for change to come from grassroots not government

I always liked and respected Bill Bradley, and so was also looking forward to what insights his sharp thinking might bring to our deep sh-t converging economic, energy and environment (3E) predicament.  But like several others, I was disappointed. 

And Hucklejohn nailed it:


If a smart guy like Senator Bradley doesn't get it, then I doubt many other "mainstream" folks will get it either. [/quote]

Senator Bradley, if you're reading our comments, please watch Chris Martenson's Crash Course!!  We could sorely use an intelligent, good person like you,  who is well-capable of understanding these concepts, and is capable of holding his own in the political arena, to wake up and speak for the people!

Unfortunately like a lot of people, and more unfortunately it appears particurlarly decision makers (even the Austrian school of economics proponents like Ron Paul and it seems many on this site) don't realize (choose to ignore, accept other more fantastical ideas like we were created and the earth is ours to rule…?) that we are biological primates existing in a very small biosphere.  As Carl Sagan put it if you shrunk the earth down to the size of a basketball all life (in the universe as far as we know at this point) exists in a layer thinner than saran wrap around the ball.
Given this fact (which you much accept or further understanding is probably impossible) the simple questions of what sustains us and allows us to florish can be addressed.  Science (lets just call it our best attempt at understanding the universe) is the only instrument that so far provides the answers.  Physically, we are quite certain what humans require (e.g., clean air, water, food, healthy shelter etc. all currently provided by this thin biosphere and web of life that we are a strand in, not seperate from, and it is currently in great peril (for example see Nature magazine), psyscholgically we know we need love, healthy relationships both familial and community (as we are social primates) and we need to avoid negative stressors (for example see Dr. Robert Sapolsky  ) and perhaps spiritually (however you wish to define it) we have requirements as well (sacred places for introspection etc.).  All of this needs to be accomplished in an egalatarian (no, there are no utopias, but there are much better models and hopefully continuing change and improvment) society (for example see Dr. Richard Wilkinson ) (there are inumerable more scientific studies that support these findings which you can look up if you want real understanding… I have just listed a couple references for conveinience.  Unfortunately we do live in a world we have constructed where we are (have to be?) skeptical of any information and always wondering about the bias, the differential advantage etc.  Another aspect of our society we need to change).

These sustaining concepts must form the foundation of any proposed so called economic system.  I think it is painfully obvious that traditional concepts of economics (pretty much all schools of thought e.g., Keynes, Austrian, Chicago…) are fundamentally flawed (do not take these understandings as a priori) when it comes to understanding these "life ground concepts" (for example see John McMurtry's "Cancer stage of Capitalism").  We need a new paradigm.  We need to update our society to our current knowledge and understandings (through science and technology) of the natural world (not attempt to use our science and technolgy to defeat nature or count on it to repair or substitute for damage).  

Repairing bridges and roads and giving everyone jobs so they can shop, fiddle with the monetary system…Wow!!!  I would really become depressed if I thought this was the most creative we can be.  We have a deficit alright, a massive deficit of understanding.

I wish I could keep my cynicism out of what I write but I just can't. Bradley speaks of long range, thoughtful approaches to our problems. All of which sound grand. So, putting this logic to work, and his time spent in the senate, I would have to conclude that he, and his cronies spent a good part of their intellectual assets hell bent on destroying our country.
Chris, this thumbs up thing bothers me so I give everyone a thumbs up vote. Frankly, every one's voice here matters to me, and a zero should never be the mark of any Women or Man on our site. Small thing? Trivial? I will continue to give everyone a thumbs up and personally could care less what my mark is but I do not appreciate this gimmick. Silly really, immature are my thoughts. Love you though my brother.

Respectfully Given


Robert… I see the new comment rating option as a benefit… I am not at all clear on why you view it so negatively… we must be thinking differently about it.  If it's used as a non-content specific poster popularity vote of some sort - then I would agree with you… but I am hoping that it is used as a way to highlight the best (comment-based) content, such that it can float to the top and be seen more readily on the front page.  Certainly many of my posts are really just comments… not worthy of special mention or highlight.  Would you be willing to give it a chance… observe how it is being used for a while before protesting with your thumbs?  

I omitted my comment to you. Here is what I wanted to say to you: Just a great chart to submit for all to see. From the point Mr. Bradley took office and until retirement, and after setting the trend, we now sit at the proverbial cliff. So why would I really care what this man says. Thank you so much for providing the real picture. A BIG thumbs up (don't like that thing), and Mr. Bradley has to own the straight up chart during his tenure. Sorry Bill, realities a biaatch. Regards
BOB seen it yesterday, looked for it here and didn't see it so I'll share


While we were disappointed in what Bradley said, you deserve kudos for your effort to bring us the views of an insider.  However, I expect that will always be a fruitless endeavor.  A professional politician will only show his “public face” in any public forum you can offer.  We aren’t’ insiders and therefore privy to what they really think.  Besides, I’ll bet most of them really are totally immersed within the status quo.

If I may borrow a few of your words – I think that expecting honesty from a politician is like basing your future on hope.  It is a poor strategy.  For myself, I have written off the whole political process.  It is up to us to save ourselves, and I expect politicians and government to seriously impede our efforts.

The question that intrigues me is how much do people in positions of power, not just politicians, really understand about –

1 – The true nature of our economic predicament

2 - Peak oil

A year ago you indicated their awareness of both was pretty much non-existent.  Recently you said something to the effect that there is growing awareness everywhere except in government.  Keep in mind that the private consultations you do are a biased sample as your clients are an advanced guard.  However, between them, your other contacts, and your information research, you have a useful impression that you could share.  I’d love to see an article about this.


[quote=Travlin]A year ago you indicated their awareness of both was pretty much non-existent.  Recently you said something to the effect that there is growing awareness everywhere except in government.  Keep in mind that the private consultations you do are a biased sample as your clients are an advanced guard.  However, between them, your other contacts, and your information research, you have a useful impression that you could share.  I’d love to see an article about this.
This past weekend I presented to a large audience of management accountants in Las Vegas.  If ever there was a more discordant location to present a reality-based view, I would be surprised.  :slight_smile:
However, the point here is that this message is indeed going farther and deeper than ever, helped along by the fact that all of the old magical monetary incantations are failing to sway the economic gods.  The congregation is losing faith and seeking alternative answers.
I'll have more on that topic later on…
I do not really have any hope that politicians, current or former, will suddenly reveal a deep understanding of the predicament.  I do like to touch base with them from time to time as a means of exposing just how large the gap is between the facts and their thinking.   
In a perverse way, this is inspirational to me in the sense that I come away more convinced than ever that one's best strategy is be as prepared as possible for a disruptive future.