Politics and Promises: Technology, Training, Education, and the Economy

The election has laid bare one unmistakable truth: a significant number of voters, left behind by the technology revolution, regard job security and career stability above all other matters when choosing a political champion. Unfortunately, the economic populism of the President-elect is a lie, built on a series of unattainable promises that would depend entirely on a policy of protectionism, international isolation, and aggressive market regulation and manipulation. These promises, if even attempted, would have regressive effects on the health of the economy without actually helping anyone that is distressed. It is not fair to promise a resurrection of the familiar and reliable by mere federal fiat, as factors far outside the dominion of the government will make this impossible. Technological advances in efficiency, scale, and automation around the world will continue to expand and devastate many job categories and industries, from energy to transportation to service to professional, and the nation will require a real, multi-faceted, flexible, long-term, and achievable solution to this wide-ranging problem.

Amidst the many policy positions that were held and promoted by the Clinton campaign during the long election season, a small collection of related proposals stood out to me as an essential heart to a potential solution to this problem. This portfolio of ideas could work to protect and promote the economically distressed and at risk, and be central to ongoing growth and prosperity for all Americans in an increasingly high-tech world. While she may have lost the election, I sincerely hope that these issues are revisited by Congressional and state-level leadership in her absence:

  1. The aggressive expansion of STE(A)M education programs, including technical training for teachers at all levels of schooling. Clinton had called for a target of 50,000 new teachers nationwide with certified training in computer science coursework, which was an ambitious but necessary goal in a world where the most prosperous and sustainable jobs are frequently in the fields of computer and information technology.
  2. Technical training programs, and grants to help pay for them, for those who are looking to transition out of non-technical careers. There is almost certain to be an exponential growth in the number of adults looking for new career opportunities as automation (or semi-automation) reduces or eliminates various job categories and industries over the next few decades. Clinton had highlighted a number of existing local programs as potential role models for a national model, including Colorado’s Business and Schools in Collaboration (BASIC), the Markle Foundation’s Skillful initiative, and the TechHire platform run by Opportunity@Work at New America. It is imperative that we help people find new, well-paying work as the world shifts away from previously traditional and stable roles, especially in energy and manufacturing.
  3. And for those whom a technical career is impossible or unpalatable, Clinton had advocated for new or expanded programs to help advance opportunities in the skilled trades, which will survive a lot of the automation advancements of the next few decades. She proposed a tax credit for employers that take on apprentices and provide adequate on-the-job training, as well as grants for expanded training at high schools and community colleges across the country. Skilled trades are often unionized, and come with decent pay and benefits.

There will also need to be a comprehensive review and national debate about related problems, such as the ballooning levels of student debt, the nearly unattainable bar for home ownership, and skyrocketing rents, all of which can have aggregate risk on individual success. And without broad individual success, we cannot expect societal success.

And, whether we like it or not, within our lifetime we will likely need to face the demand of economic protection programs that guard against the ongoing risks of further advanced automation, such as Basic Income.

There is no doubt that the world has been cruel to some, and those people are feeling scared and ignored. But I fear that many, in their desperation, have fallen for a con. As with the great industrial and technical disruptions of the past, we face upheaval that requires the hard work of helping people find what’s next and to discover new success rather than promising that the distressed can keep what they know, and inevitably failing to deliver.

There is room enough for all of us to prosper in the world ahead.