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Save the Planet? How About a For-Profit Peace Corps?

January 23, 1991|DANA PARSONS

Are you one of those people who believes that the world is crumbling and we're all doomed?

Me, too.

Strangely enough, not everyone sees things that way. And while eternal optimists usually wear a little thin with me (when they really get going, I tend to start musing about pastoral scenes from my boyhood), they can from time to time be entertaining.

Such a guy is Thomas Woods, who I assumed was going to be pretty goofy but who turned out to be an enjoyable guy to have a cup of coffee with. Woods, who lives in a nice house on a secluded street in Laguna Beach, is working on a book, which he has titled: "Mega-Solutions: A Plan to Save the Planet by 2000 AD"

Talk about someone who makes you think you're setting your goals too low. Woods spends his nights figuring out how to save the planet; I'm trying to decide what to do with my aunt and uncle who are visiting this weekend.

Woods is a round-faced 47-year-old divorced father of two girls. His interest in global salvation began several years ago, he said, when his older daughter, then about 5 or 6, mentioned that she thought the world was going to be destroyed in nuclear war by the year 2000. That's not exactly what you want to hear from your little angel, and Woods said he remembers saying to her: "Not if I can help it; not if I can be part of changing that."

And instead of lying down on the sofa and watching TV, Woods began thinking about his book.

With advanced degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago and with personal interest in national and world affairs, Woods' goal is to produce a book that will be a blueprint for dealing with the new world order that President Bush has talked about.

I'm not sure I fully understand it, but the heart of Woods' contribution to the book (he's hoping to attract other contributing authors) is that the United States would sell successful systems abroad. Included would be models for such things as transportation, health care, food production and manufacturing.

"The basic concept is how are we going to create new funding for projects, either local, national or international," Woods said. "My concept would be revolutionary.

"Take foreign aid, for example. We would shift from foreign aid to foreign investment. On a massive scale, we would begin selling successful government systems to foreign governments. Instead of giving them away, we would sell them. And not just sell them without follow-up. We would have follow-up, in terms of consultation, on a massive scale. It would be like a for-profit Peace Corps."

Trying to sound halfway conversant on the subject, I said I thought that private firms were already doing that.

"Not on the scale I'm talking about," Woods said.

Besides, he said, the uniqueness of his idea is that after the service providers were paid, the U.S. government would distribute excess profits to U.S. citizens.

"We would start receiving checks from the IRS and Social Security," he said.

"That's a new world order I cannot picture," I said.

"That's what they said when someone said, 'Let's go to the moon,' " Woods said. "People said, 'Lock them up.' "

"Is that what your friends are saying about you?" I asked.

Woods acknowledged that he's "gotten a lot of resistance from people, just because I'm talking about things that can get done, but aren't."

Woods, who has an undergraduate degree in economics and advanced degrees in psychology and social work, called the book a logical extension of his educational and professional careers. He works for state government, but the specific agency didn't want him to say which one because it isn't associated with his book.

He's hoping to find a publisher this year. In the meantime, he wishes the country would wage war against what he calls "it-can't-be-doneism. Because there is a lot of negativity," he said.

I avoided his gaze.

Woods described himself as a "productive person, a prolific idea person" but somehow doesn't come across in person like a nutty professor or eccentric egomaniac. After all, this is a man who willingly hands over a resume that includes the titles of 39 unpublished writings of his, including, "The Role of Singles for World Peace."

That, my friends, is a down-to-earth guy.

"If someone has a better idea," Woods said, "come forward and share it with me. I'll change my ideas. I'm not saying this is the only way, but I'm saying at least this is one way, and this is the best way I know of to try and take a stab at solving these huge problems."

Woods acknowledges that some people might consider his plan a little "far out." I, for one, am cutting Woods some slack and wishing him well.

Think about it. In the critical years ahead, which side do you want to be on: the wacky people bent on destroying the planet or the wacky people who have a plan to save it?

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