What happens when we’re at the doctor’s office and it is the State of the Body rather than that of the Union is under examination. Apart from a general look at our posture, color, and facial expression, the doctor will check three metrics—usually already obtained by his assisting nurse: temperature, blood pressure, and body weight. For good measure, the doctor may, in addition, have us sit with legs dangling and use a little hammer to see if our reflexes work. The reflexes work. The temperature is falls into the range of 95.5 to 98.8F. Our blood pressure is 120/80—the top number when the heart is pushing blood, the low for when its very temporarily resting. Our color is normal; we managed a so-so smile. We are neither too light nor too heavy. All’s well, with the State of the Body.
Similar metrics—of which, curiously, average body weight is also one—applies to the State of the Union. Here the big measures are the rate of change in Gross Domestic Product, in the Total Deficit, Employment, Income, Poverty, Income Distribution, Birth Rate, change in the Obesity Rate, especially of children, and Imminent Threat of Violence at our borders.
The earliest State of the Union reports were written and were usually heavy on international relations and sometimes quite numerical regarding budget matters; but it never occurred to early presidents to worry about galloping obesity. (For complete texts, see this link). These days State of the Union reports are heavy on Visions, Feelings, and other handy insubstantialities. It would seem that returning to metrics might be a pretty good change—real measurements of what is going on. These should be presented as graphics—and the Bureau of the Census adequately funded so that, for instance, numbers of the 2015 actual Poverty Rate would be available in January 2016; they are not. But just as such issues such as Poverty, Obesity, and Income Distribution are becoming important indicators, so also should be what is happening beyond our borders—and broad perspectives might be useful.
What we need, in other words, is a metric-rich State of the Union combined with a sober State of the World with foresight built in. It might be well to discuss global plagues, global population trends, global water resources, the state of the oceans, and the great wars—not least directly naming the Mideast conflict as the evolution of a 100-years war within the Muslim culture which will still be raging for another 70 years or so.
Just a thought…