Solving the world’s problems

When publishers call their editorial writers together for the daily conference, they often like to say: “So, how are we solving the world’s problems today?” This is a little publisher joke, because in all of recorded history, no evidence suggests that any world problem has been solved by an editorial.

Those of us who write them are not discouraged. We press on in the hope that one of us is going to get lucky and eventually solve a world problem. Still, I wouldn’t sit on the edge of your seat waiting if I were you.

As one who has attended countless meetings to solve the world’s problems, I am bound to note with wonder and a hint of envy that the G-20 economic summit that recently concluded in Pittsburgh achieved a remarkable feat in the annals of world-problem solving.

As you can imagine, it’s a tall order solving the world’s problems. It is a task that demands many hours of chin stroking and beard fiddling (not compulsory for female leaders).

The G-20 summiteers dispensed with all of that in their drive for efficiency. Their first official act on Thursday was to attend what was billed as a reception and working dinner at Phipps Conservatory, which started at 6 p.m. with President Barack Obama greeting guests.

My guess is that the actual working that evening consisted mostly of eating dinner, and perhaps tasting some nice wines, because there’s nothing like a chat about tariffs in a room full of ferns to excite a world leader’s appetite. Why, it works for me and I am not a world leader, just a fellow who sometimes gets nice notes from people who have fluffy animals on their stationery.

But not to worry about a world-problem-solving opportunity lost. The main business was conducted at the plenary session the next day, starting at the crack of 9:30 a.m. (World leaders start their days at a later crack than the rest of us, because they have some preliminary leading to do before breakfast.) As plenary sessions are another proven way to arouse the stomach juices, they were scheduled to break for lunch again at 12:45 p.m. Then it was back to the world problems grindstone at 2 p.m.

It was all over by about 5 p.m., just in time for the world leader rush-hour home (the Japanese prime minister stayed to throw out the first pitch at the Pirates game that night. It wasn’t much of a pitch, but no one hit it out of the park, so the Bucs immediately signed him, only to trade him shortly afterwards for being too talented).

Here is the wonder of it: These world leaders worked for a solid — what? — five hours on that Friday, not counting bathroom breaks and time spent for coffee and complimentary Danish and THEY SOLVED THE WORLD’S ECONOMIC PROBLEMS! We know this because they issued a communique at the end announcing the world’s problems their leadership had dealt with, and while dealing with them is not quite the same as solving them, it is close enough for international government work. And as a communique is merely diplomatic speak for a group editorial with a superior attitude, it is galling to me that they pulled this feat off. How could it be possible? (That does it; I am calling all my editorials communiques from now on.) Some cynics may say that these world leaders really didn’t deal with or solve all the world’s problems — for example, they did nothing about survey takers who call you during dinner.

But I believe they did the job as advertised because you don’t become a world leader without becoming an expert meeting attendee. Every known occupation now is one long meeting and only the cream rises to the top.

And do you know what nation leads the world in meetings? Yes, the United States, we are No. 1 in meetings, business gabfests and talk-a-ramas. As a result, our corporate leaders have developed a bladder capacity to rival camels and have perfected the art of sitting through PowerPoint presentations without looking glazed.

That is why it was so fitting that this G-20 meeting should be held in America, where even our sports interrupt the action for meetings (the huddle in football, the discussion on the pitcher’s mound in baseball) and in a city where the population has been transformed from one that stood up and made things to one that sat down and made meetings.

How fitting too that the most efficient problem-solving meeting in the world should have been held in Pittsburgh! Like so many Caesars, it was for each a venic, vidi, vici moment — I came, I met, I communiqued.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)