One of the really great things about the work I’m involved in is that I get to meet so many amazing people who are doing so much to solve big problems and make positive change in the world. It’s a real privilege to learn from these people who truly inspire me. More people should know about them and the great things they’re doing.
That’s one of the reasons why I was excited when I was asked not only to speak at the TED conference again this year but also to pick some people to tell their stories too. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design, but the conference, which is held each spring in Long Beach, California, showcases ideas in many disciplines that are shaping our future. A thousand people attend and millions more watch TED videos online around the world. They get interesting speakers from all over the world. The format is very fast-paced with more than 50 talks over the course of four days. Videos of most talks are eventually brought online at www.ted.com.
I thought a long time about who I should invite to speak at the session I was asked to curate. I’m really excited about the speakers who are coming, because each of them is contributing to a revolution of one sort or another, fueled by knowledge and innovation. We’ve posted lots of content on Gates Notes related to these speakers and their topics, and eventually their talks will be available online too.
Also, I’m giving my third TED talk in three years. (You can view my talk from 2010 on Energy & Innovating to Zero and from 2009 on Mosquitos, Malaria & Education.) This time, I wanted to share some of what I’ve been learning about state budgets. I got interested in them because states supply most of the money for public education in the United States. What I’ve been learning, though, is that states are under increasingly intense budget pressure, and not just because of the aftereffects of the economic recession, although that has made things worse.
There are long-term problems with state budgets that a return to economic growth won’t solve. Health-care costs and pension obligations are projected to grow at rates that look to be completely unsustainable, unless something is done. But so far, many states aren’t doing much to deal with their fundamental problems. Instead they’re building budgets on tricks—selling off assets, creative accounting—and fictions, like assuming that pension fund investments will produce much higher gains than anyone should reasonably expect.
Eventually they’ll have to make some hard decisions about priorities, and I’m worried that education will suffer, even more than it is suffering already because of budget cuts. The issues are complicated and obscured by the complexities of accounting, so most people don’t fully understand what’s going on. More people need to investigate their state’s budget and get involved in helping to make the right choices. My TED talk is sort of a call to action for citizens, taxpayers, parents, everyone.
I hope you’ll explore the Gates Notes site to learn more about this and the other TED talks that I’m involved in. Check back for additional TED-related content that we’ll be posting as it becomes available.