Politics vs. economics again

After the 2010 election I wrote two posts on how disconnected our politics are from the new economic realities of a flattening world. (You can find those posts here and here.) In an insightful column New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes the same disconnect occurred during the Iowa caucus campaign. In a column entitled So Much Fun, So Irrelevant Friedman writes:

What if the 2012 campaign were actually about the world in which we’re living and how we adapt to it? What would the candidates be talking about? Surely at or near the top of that list would be the tightening merger between globalization and the latest information technology revolution. … Therefore, the critical questions for America today have to be how we deploy more ultra-high-speed networks and applications in university towns to invent more high-value-added services and manufactured goods and how we educate more workers to do these jobs — the only way we can maintain a middle class. I just don’t remember any candidate being asked in those really entertaining G.O.P. debates: “How do you think smart cities can become the job engines of the future, and what is your plan to ensure that America has a strategic bandwidth advantage.”

Friedman’s prescription: The best of these ecosystems will be cities and towns that combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community and the fastest broadband connections on earth. These will be the job factories of the future. The countries that thrive will be those that build more of these towns that make possible “high-performance knowledge exchange and generation,” explains Blair Levin, who runs the Aspen Institute’s Gig.U project

Whether you agree with his policy proposals or not, the key take away from the column is that globalization and technology are mega forces that are reshaping continually the global economy and that the places that do best economically will be those that adjust to and align with those new realities. Not those who try to recreate what worked in the past. But our politics – when it is about jobs and the economy – are driven by the desire of most Americans to get back the economy that worked for them in past. No politician can do that, but they will campaign on their ability to do that as long as that is what most voters want. The Friedman article is about the Republicans, but this holds true for both parties.

As I noted after the 2010 Michigan election, Governor Snyder got elected on a platform of transitioning the state to Michigan 3.0, but nearly all the legislature ran on restarting Michigan 2.0. This dynamic is being repeated so far in the 2012 elections. As long as this is the case, the public wanting and politicians running on making the old economy work again, public policy – from either party – is not going to address the core question Friedman laid out: How do we adopt and succeed in a world driven by the tightening merger between globalization and the latest information technology revolution?

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