The uniqueness of any democracy is the discussion and debate on policy issues in the public square. Every election cycle provides a unique opportunity for such debate. The result is an emerging consensus often treated as the “mandate” for further actions and programs implemented through the congress and the elected officials. America stands as the beacon of hope for such public policy development and actions that serve the larger interests of its people. As the single super power the leadership from US also serves the needs of the citizens of all nations across the globe.
Let us see how these hopes and aspirations of the middle class in the USA and the people across the globe are served or not during this current election cycle?
Turning to the Democrats the promise from Bernie Sanders’ campaign is tuition free education in all public colleges and universities. The Hillary Clinton campaign offers an alternative – debt free college education for all. Assuming either or both policies are implemented what comes next? Where will the high wage jobs come from? Do we really need college education for the many jobs to be created through infrastructure investments? If not then what? Aren’t the middle class starved of good paying jobs and wage stagnation also likely to be left with more number of well-educated un-employed youth to care for?
Affordable higher education is certainly a laudable goal. But the total silence on the nature of higher education and how it must be reformed to create graduates who can create and sustain new job and career opportunities is astonishing indeed.
Are the graduates coming out of colleges today fully employed? If the answer is No, then is it merely a case of lack of adequate number of jobs? Or is it a case that the higher education today is insufficient or incapable of meeting the needs of the jobs available today? What is the required education? Are the educators of today capable of offering such modified education? Writing a blank check to the higher education industry with an open ended expectation may serve no one’s best interests.
Better funding for basic research is claimed as one of the needs to recover more well-paying jobs. Assuming that organizations such as NIST, NSF and NIH and others are funded ten times more than their current budgets, are they capable of creating outcomes which in turn can result in adequate number of well-paying jobs in US to accommodate all the future graduates? Does their track record justify such expectations in the future? Educators and intellectuals need to step in and fill this policy vacuum. There may be no time better than now for such debate and consensus building.
Turning to the Republicans, their leading candidate Donald Trump promises to make “America great again”, by bringing back the manufacturing from China to USA. Let us take a closer look at this proposal.
The role and impact of labor cost is gradually declining in most manufacturing activities. With the rapidly declining cost for information processing and increasing competencies through programmable automation (robots, CNC, AGV, drones, etc.) the need for human labor in manufacturing sector is substantially lower today than any time before. Hence large segments of manufacturing may return to US on their own accord. But it is unlikely that they will bring back the large number of jobs lost in the manufacturing sector.
It will not be the Chinese or Mexicans stealing the future US manufacturing jobs. It will be the shrewd rich investors and the few technology workers who implement their modern operations in the US. They will also be the beneficiaries of any manufacturing renaissance in the USA. This being the case, one wonders what is it that Trump supporters are voting for? When their expectations go unfulfilled, will their anger find further new scape goats? Is that in the best interest of any one?
The reality is that in the 21st century Binary Economy no one is immune from the forces of globalization. One needs to produce outcomes better than anyone else across the globe to command high wage jobs. That is a tall order. Unfortunately it is also the reality. All others – who produce outcomes that can be replicated by someone else – will be forced into low wage jobs with stagnant wages. Being born in any country – including the USA – is not an automatic pathway for better wage jobs.
A nation with a collection of unique skills, capabilities and products and services that cannot be easily replicated by some other nation has a better chance to serve the needs of its citizens. It will require an innovation spirit which becomes the nation’s way of life. This cannot happen through isolation, building walls or pitting one group against another.
Republicans may be lost in their internal political fractures, with little time to spare for larger policy discussions. But they need to consider that governing is not just a matter of smaller government and personal responsibility but how such philosophy is put into practice. The crisis in Flint, MI is a clear case of task oriented actions – being penny wise and pound foolish. It is a matter of not looking at the problems as a whole, as a system. It is a matter of taking responsibility at all levels – being transformational – and not merely for one task (short term cost reduction) at a time.
The Democrats will be no better off if they do not propose and foster a common language that facilitates the innovation spirit as the new way of life. An education at all levels that promotes System Thinking and Transformational Skills will be required for such way of life. This may need challenging the teachers and labor and their unions to think differently and act differently from their well established procedures and practices.