Transitioning from “the American Century” to a new era of globalization and soaring, technology-driven productivity has presented the United States with a monumental set of challenges in both the public and private sectors. Perhaps the most surprising challenge has turned out to be a lack of fundamental understanding, across all facets of public discourse and debate, regarding the upheaval at hand.
This book addresses the void by clarifying for policymakers, technologists, scientists, students, and adult citizens from wage-earner to nascent entrepreneur to CEO just how much is at stake, and how very near we are to reaching a sort of socioeconomic critical mass.
After sorting our new-era needs into four vectors—(1) a need for new emphasis on scientific/technological education (and a just-in-time interface with industry), (2) a need to retain value-added manufacturing in the U.S., (3) a need to sustain our edge in technology innovation (a vital resource that tends to move wherever associated manufacturing moves), and (4) the need to excel in all these vectors on a globally integrated basis, with no reluctance to interact in a world economy.
I have tried to illustrate how all four vectors—and all their consequences for American society and the U.S. economy—are products of technological advancement…meaning irreversible change. The most daunting consequence for the average American, and the most crucial point to be understood in policy and politics, is that our 21st Century unemployment problems are not cyclical but structural.
Furthermore, machines and computers will continue accomplish more and more of the tasks that formerly required human labor. Ultimately (no one could possibly say when) our entire traditional idea of a “job” and a “career” will need to be redefined, not in the dictionary sense but as in redefining how Americans (and others in the new global economy) lead useful, fulfilling lives and “earn a living” in the process.
And here is the critical turning point for policymakers, politicians, economists, and citizens: we need, I hope engagingly and concisely demonstrate, to have a national conversation about the origin of wealth—not a philosophical discussion, but a reminder of lessons taught by our society’s past prosperity, and the failure of other economic systems to keep up.
.The Technology Imperative reminds readers that the American Century itself began with a massive socioeconomic upheaval, one in which the vast majority of Americans moved from farm-based prosperity (or lack thereof) to manufacturing-based prosperity (or lack thereof). On balance, the 20th Century was massively prosperous for Americans of every station. Factory workers—straight off the farm at first—joined their supervisors and their industries’ vendors to form (along with professionals and the service sector) history’s greatest middle class.
Thanks in large part to technology, the new century finds U.S. remaining the world’s leading manufacturer and leading innovator—but both of those benchmarks are slipping, along with major erosion of the middle class. I note that already federal transfer payments have begun to flow into that fault line, and I see further reliance on the state for individual “prosperity” as the greatest threat to any chance for a second American Century.
The worst-kept secret, but somehow often overlooked truth, he notes, is that the American version of free-market capitalism not only created wealth during the 20th Century, but shared it via job creation. Entrepreneurial reinvestment for the purpose of creating new wealth was, in fact, the great source of wealth distribution…because new jobs were a necessary part of the equation.
Suddenly we find ourselves technologically able to create wealth with less and less labor—a demographic that is exacerbated by the fact that more or more (now almost all) jobs that are create required substantial skill levels and scientific/technological education. This would not be a game-changing matter of survival for the American economy and way of life if it were possible for government to create wealth rather than merely distributing it.
What setsmy book apart at this crucial juncture is that as a former industrialist, an entrepreneur, and an avid champion of relatively free markets as the only documented way forward to regaining prosperity for all Americans—do not hesitate to look at employment trends and say that capitalism must make adjustments so it will begin distributing new wealth as efficiently as it did in the 20th Century. Otherwise, he says, populist anxiety inevitably will push the U.S. into bigger government and stunted growth, leading to hastened decline as a player in the global economy, followed by less and less prosperity for the very people the statist policies were intended to help.
The Technology Imperative calls for a serious public dialogue on these issues, leading to a full understanding that there is no “old prosperity” to be had merely by waiting out some imaginary business cycle, or waiting for some yet-undiscovered innovation to ease all the socioeconomic pain.
Meantime, I proposes a fascinating plan meant as one way to incubate new wealth and distribute it widely as in the American Century. I propose new entities to be known as Economic Growth Corporations that would draw investment from the highest earners (both individual and corporate). Such earners (the politically famous “one percent,” and perhaps on down the income ladder) could either pay a doubled tax rate on half their income, or could pay the normal rate if that capital were invested (inside the U.S.) in startup companies and or existing firms with expansion plans.
Both sides to traditional political/economic debates would be served, and more importantly the American people and their economy would be served. The wealthiest citizens and entities would either pay a higher tax rate, or would put their money to work creating new wealth. And this would be done with free-market efficiency, with none of the invested money passing through the federal money trap.
The Economic Growth Corporations (EGCs) are a specific, near-term tactic in fighting a problem that already has affected our society’s stability, and which promises to become a still bigger long-term problem. The Technology Imperative offers an important resource for developing responses next week and on into a new, irreversibly altered American socioeconomic landscape.
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