Culture Trumps Policy

Reading and writing about the future of California has me thinking about what really matters to their likely continuing role as an economic powerhouse. What is it that positions them far better to succeed in a flattening world than Indiana and Michigan.

I keep coming back to the central conclusion of our New Agenda work that culture trumps policy. (For details read our New Agenda for New Michigan report.) This is culture as attitudes and beliefs, not arts and culture.

We surprised ourselves in developing our New Agenda by concluding that what most distinugishes those places across the country that are doing best in a flattening world is their culture. That if you got the policy right and the culture wrong, you would not be successful.

The places with the most prosperous economies highly value lifelong learning, an entrepreneurial spirit and being welcoming to all. This is what matters most along with an acceptance – rather than resistance to – globalization and technology.

The importance of valuing learning is obvious. Education attainment is what is driving success for individuals and communities. And because the world is constantly changing learning needs to be for a lifetime.

We use entrepreneurial spirit in its broadest sense, the opposite of entitlement. It means a community with a DNA that values risk taking and taking responsibility for your own career whether you start a business or not. It sure means giving up on the notion that you are owed a job with good wages and benefits as long as you do your job, whether your employer is successful or not.

Talent increasingly can live anywhere they want on the planet. Its no longer can we compete for mobile talent with Chicago and California. Its now those places plus China, Africa, Europe, you name it. And one thing is clear, if people don’t feel welcome, they will not come. The places doing best are those that are open to having folks come and live in their communities from anyplace on the planet.

These cultural values far better characterize California than either Michigan or Indiana. And are a more powerful driver of economic growth than getting state and local spending and taxing right. Changing culture is hard, but its something we need to put at the top of our priority list. Its that important!

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