Bush, The Withering Creative Economy, And A Democratic Opportunity
Suppose for a moment that after the Cold War, an enlightened American administration came into power, populated by forward-looking thinkers who saw both the need and opportunity to move America towards a new economy quickly. These “new economy” types were free traders who unlike previous free traders didn’t simply focus on battling protectionists for the sake of corporate profits but also wanted the federal government to be an active player in transitioning the nation’s economy to new industries and high-paying jobs for those displaced by the effects of globalization.
The new administration saw the immediate need to work with industry on improving their overseas markets, creating and expanding efforts with industry on research and development incentives, and also focused on job retraining programs for displaced workers. And unlike previous administrations, the new crowd in Washington realized that in order for the nation’s workforce to maintain their standard of living while domestic industries underwent significant dislocation, a new “creative economy” needed to be fostered. This new economy required government involvement in growing industries and jobs, where retrained workers would work alongside skilled and creative immigrants from other countries to help build these new technologies and industries so that America workers would have new opportunities in new industries for well paying jobs.
And then imagine that along the path of uncorking the genie from this globalization bottle, after the country had moved down the path towards the new and creative economy, a new American administration took power. Imagine that this team didn’t have one forward thinker among them, and did a 180-degree turn by reinterpreting globalization to fit its idea of selective protectionism, focusing government help on extracting and smokestack industries at the exclusion of the new and creative economy. Imagine that this new team walked away from research and development efforts in this new economy to focus tax credits once again on energy and other politically connected industries. Imagine that the new team walked away from job training and saw that it wasn’t the government’s job to be actively involved in helping workers displaced by outsourcing or downsizing, and that these workers were left to do the best they could with lower-paying replacement jobs.
Imagine that based on somewhat legitimate concerns over terrorism, the new administration tightened up on immigration to the point of overkill so that a steady supply of creative talent from overseas dried up. Imagine that due to a repugnant foreign policy that such creative overseas talent no longer wanted to immigrate here anyway. And imagine that other countries saw an American Goliath stumble backwards and relinquish its advantages in the new and creative economy by its new disinterest, allowing these other countries to learn from what we did right in the 1990’s and emulate it to their advantage in the 2000’s. Imagine that while we focused inward and backward, these countries shot past us to lead the creative economy, condemning America to a steady drain of talent overseas, a downward standard of living for a working class without new well-paying options, and a white collar class that finds itself soon to be replaced without new industries and options of its own.
Stop imagining. Is the problem globalization, or our sudden U-turn on the path to globalization and the lack of far-sighted leadership within the Bush Administration? There are many valid arguments and complaints with globalization, ranging from the assumptions that trade agreements costing American jobs would automatically benefit Mexico, to the basic question of why the American labor force should be used as the largest lab experiment in history. But the biggest problem with globalization is that for it to work well here, our political system has to remain committed to the original assumptions behind it: that commitments to job retraining, growing new industries and jobs, and consistent enforcement are all to be maintained across administrations of different political stripes.
The Bush Administration is evidence that it doesn’t take much for a group of Neanderthals to take the benefits of globalization and turn them against their own people for the sake of corporate bottom lines and cheap shirts at Wal-Mart.
As Kerry and Edwards thrash each other over who is more concerned about jobs and trade agreements, hopefully not veering too much towards sounding protectionist, it would be wise for both of them to emphasize what was intended with globalization in the first place and where Bush has taken it, all the while pointing out what they would do differently. This issue presents a real opportunity in the general election, as the swing voters and even some moderate GOP voters could be made to see that the problem isn't globalization so much as it is Bush's pre-New Economy approach to it.