It’s About Scranton, Stupid

By Michael Hodin


I’m from Scranton, too. Actually, was born and raised there, left to go to college, but forever there, emotionally, spiritually. When I was visiting my mom in early Fall 2016 — only two hours northwest of New York City’s Upper West Side, where I’ve been the last 40 years — I had the first hint Donald Trump would likely beat Hillary. Of the thirteen lawn signs I saw in Scranton’s Hill section, a dozen read Trump and one shouted, “Lock Her Up.”

So, Joe, if you want to win them back, you’re going to have to tell the truth about delivering jobs, economic growth, and the stuff we’ve come to expect, from healthcare to pensions. You need a campaign theme that my old friends and family in Scranton will believe and trust. Try this:

In the third decade of our 21st century, everyone’s gut knows that 20th century economics built on the retirement model in our early 60s are outdated. It’s not only that we’re all living decades longer, which neither government nor private employers can afford to subsidize. It’s also that modern life has been producing much reduced births, which means the proportion of old — retired — to young — working — has profoundly shifted. You should take note that 72% of us want to work longer, if differently, than last century’s model. Just like you, Joe.

Here are three ideas for your campaign that can be stitched together in a credible vision for America.

First, jobs. It’s not only a myth that keeping a 67 or 78-year old employed takes jobs away from a 28 or 37-year old, it’s that we all benefit from a multi-generational workforce, which marries the tech-literate and creative juices of millennials with the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of their parents and grandparents. And we also now know that activity (including work) as we age keeps us healthier, which is a far better path to more sustainable healthcare costs, exploding largely due to the aging of our society. For now, you need a vision where we transform the idea of retiring at an age we are likely to live another few decades. By the way, this is a topic of common interest to our economic partners in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, all of whom are facing this exact structural shift. The old 20th century retirement at 65, which was first put forward by Otto von Bismarck in the late 19th century, is unsustainable and laughable today.

Second, on healthcare. Have you noticed that the only national conversation about healthcare is how to pay, which only divides us? I promise you, there will be excitement in Scranton if you stitch together a framework for the 21st century healthcare model, which is to enable functional ability as we age. Consider these three lanes: Home care, which is now America’s third-fastest-growing sector; technology, where remote care is our era’s standard of care, replacing the 18th century invention of the hospital; and, incentives for innovation in prevention and wellness that includes treatment and therapy. Yes, it will mean embracing sectors in healthcare that are leading the world and providing innovation across the globe. But, if you can offer a vision for making Scrantonians lives healthier, you might win them over.

Third, go back to the quaint topic of education, which, as much as any public policy lever, needs basic reforms. But, here, too, it will resonate with those precincts you have to win back, but only if you’re as disruptive about education as you will have to be about jobs and health. Like the other areas of public policy shift, our education model is at least a century old and still rests on the idea that we learn until we’re 18 or 21, work for 30 or 40 years, retire, and die. In our 21st century of “long lives” to 100 as a matter of course, education — learning, training, skills — is not only required across our lives, it must also go beyond the responsibility of traditional institutions of education — our schools. Employers, too, must have roles in keeping us all current in order to keep us productively employed.

Yes, we from Scranton intuitively know that our president should lead us for a successful America centered on a model fit for the 21st century economy. One that is based on the most consequential if least noticed mega trend of our time — the aging of our society. Make it possible even for those of us in our 60s or 70s to have jobs; lead a new vision on 21st century health delivery; and, start the conversation with employers on their roles in education. Then I’d bet it will be your sign on their lawns in October next year.