There has been huge attendance in the recent Democratic rallies featuring the Vermont Senator Mr. Bernie Sanders. On the other hand Mr. Donald Trump has been sucking up all the oxygen and attention with his harsh language against immigrants and his fellow presidential candidates in the Republican primaries. The popular support for these candidates may be seen as the pent up anger in the population against the Wall Street and the perceived syphoning of jobs and economic opportunities by the illegal immigrants from the south of the border respectively. This kind of anecdotal explanations by the reporters and political pundits may not serve the nation well for the long term.
In a recent article published in the Washington Post titled: Sorry, but the jobless future isn’t a luddite fallacy the author makes the point: Policy makers have a big new problem to deal with: the disappearance of human jobs. Not only will there be fewer jobs for people doing manual work, the jobs of knowledge workers will also be replaced by computers. Almost every industry and profession will be impacted and this will create a new set of social problems — because most people can’t adapt to such dramatic change.
The author makes it look like it might be a problem developing into the future. But, reality suggests that the problem started a decade before Regan years, got established through the Clinton years. When the very survival of the economic order was in question due to the financial crisis along with protracted engagements in wars, when Mr. Obama took office, gradual erosion of employable opportunities for the large cross sections of the society has continued but seen merely a side issue. Now as these two national concerns are addressed to some extent, the pent up fear and anger and despair in the population is finding its voice through the emotional appeals of Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump, even if their tones are completely different.
We have documented this erosion in the meaningful opportunities for employment and economic well being as the Binary Economy well documented in our recent book. Instead of waiting for some one else to fix the problem we have suggested that technical professionals, students and others should systematically cultivate specific skills – Transformational Skills – to enhance their job and career opportunities. These individual centered initiatives will go only so far. It requires national leaders to comprehend the evolving Binary Economy and develop policies and national consensus for coping with its impact. Merely cloaking the Digital Technology as “high tech” and glorifying the thief using DT tools as “hackers” does not do well for societies that have succeeded through the use of all sorts of technologies as the backbone for their success.
Absent such policies we see continued isolation and layering of job opportunities. This leaves people in the lower levels of jobs (largely involving physical work or information tasks) with a sense of despair that unless you are born in a well to do family and go to school in a better neighborhood, your opportunities are permanently shut off. The knowledge economy and the skill based economy have become code words for the success of a few while others stagnate. These issues may be the under currents supporting the fan base for Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump.
Clearly the answer is not the anger and abuse against the immigrants unleashed by Mr. Trump. Raising minimum wage and such social policies for re-distribution of wealth by Mr. Sanders may be temporary fix. But they may not be the sufficient or sustainable long term answers as well. As noted in the Washington Post article: If we can develop the economic structures necessary to distribute the prosperity we are creating, most people will no longer have to work to sustain themselves. They will be free to pursue other creative endeavors. The problem, however, is that without jobs, they will not have the dignity, social engagement, and sense of fulfillment that comes from work. The life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that the constitution entitles us to won’t be through labor, it will have to be through other means. Is this the way of life we want?
What are the other means for such living, where anything a human can do – read, write, think, analyze, infer, conclude, decide and control – can all be done by computers and IT solutions? Mr. Steven Hawkins has raised this specter and fear one can envision due to irrational deployment of Artificial Intelligence in the future. But, the irrational deployment of digital technology for incremental gains in cost reduction and elimination of human employment has started at least four decades ago. This has been happening in parallel with unprecedented gains in many new areas thanks to advancements in Digital Technology. Are these two sides of the lever balanced? If not how to maintain the balance? These are the questions that have not been addressed for the past four decades.
There is also a need for discussion on another balancing act: Investors – those with capital or money – can work and use all resources across the globe and we call that as global capitalism. Yet national economic policies – of the countries in which the same investors live – are constrained by what the government can do within its shores. When human beings as employable resource migrate from rural areas of China and India to the urban centers it is considered legal. The same migration of people for the same reasons from poor countries to more affluent regions in their neighborhoods we decry them as illegal labor.
Such balancing act in several fronts are entirely new. This is an open space for any national leader from either party to develop a dialogue and national mandate for future actions. Whoever fills this void may emerge as our next President. Or we may go through another election without any consensus and more shouting and name calling. After all any social system under great stress needs to find the vent to release its anger and frustration. We see this release of frustration as the common outcome of the campaigns of Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump at this time.
Some might say “the train has already left the station and it is too late to do anything”. Such pessimism and acceptance of systematic loss of opportunity for large segments of work force and relegate them as un-employable will only fuel the pent up anger. Then we can expect to see even larger crowds at Bernie Sanders rallies or higher poll numbers for Mr. Trump, even though neither of them may win the presidency. But it will also weaken any future president without a mandate to strike the right balance required, as mentioned above.