Thoughts on a new political agenda
My friends in Silicon Valley often dream of a utopia of automated prosperity, where technology produces so much wealth that most people can spend their days lounging around, hiking in the woods or reading philosophy.
I believe they have gravely underestimated the problems that come from abundance.
Modern America is faced with problems of too much, not too little:
- One of our greatest killers is obesity (or, too much food)
- Our government’s biggest expense is financing a generation living longer than our economy needs them to work;
- Our thriving cities restrict construction to build housing for the flood of newcomers who create too many new high-paying jobs.
- Those who can’t afford to move to cities end up in hollowed out mid-western towns, where many residents get addicted to a surplus of cheap painkillers and an economy that has no need for their skills;
- Our oversupply of energy and materials is filling the ocean and wrecking the planet
- America’s oversupply of college graduates fear that America is too tempting to the world’s most brilliant immigrants, who will displace them into jobs for which they are overqualified;
- Policy issues of economics and science have become extraordinarily complex, making our democracy exclusive to a relatively highly educated class who took the years of schooling to understand them;
- An abundance of news sources pumping out dozens of stories a day has led many to retreat into familiar corners that help us manage the deluge of information.
Technologists have long dreamed that abundance would be humanity’s path to peace and happiness. They underestimated, however, that material abundance creates new types of scarcity.
Dignity, community, and opportunity have become scarce as national wealth increases
The response to this fact was seen in the last election, as populists from both parties demanded restrictions on market growth in favor of policies that protected Americans from immigration, free trade and innovation.
What we need is a new policy agenda that helps us both promote technological prosperity and ensures that our society is inclusive beyond material wealth. I think the essential elements of that platform are
- Universal opportunity for creative, fulfilling and innovative work
- Universal access to cities and regional mobility
- Dramatically reducing the cost of goods so that even if one fails at business, any job pays enough to afford all the basic necessities.
- More civic education and participatory democracy so that every citizen can give unique and valuable contributions to democratic decision making.
I’m still mulling the policy details, but we desperately need an agenda to deal with abundance.