How to bring back the good jobs that can restore the U.S. middle class
The U.S. government needs to lead a concerted, well-funded effort to identify and create new industries. That’s the most important lesson I’ve taken away from the American election.
The average wage of the white working-class voters who crushed Hillary Clinton has been stagnant for more than 40 years. At the same time, costs have risen, meaning that these workers are far worse off than they were a third of a century ago.
Hundreds of thousands more working-class whites voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 than for Mrs. Clinton this year. They saw Obama as a leader who would abandon Washington’s business-as-usual-approach, which had failed them — someone who would bring real change to the system.
Obama created millions of jobs during his tenure, but a lot of them didn’t pay well, certainly not enough to support middle-class families.
The working-class voters who believed he had betrayed them saw Mrs. Clinton, a consummate Washington insider, as more of the same. Although many had reservations about Donald Trump, they saw him as the one who could shake up the system and create the kinds of jobs that would give them a decent life again. They based their hopes largely on his being a billionaire business executive who presumably knew how to create jobs.
Progressives and conservatives argued for more than a year over whether Trump or Mrs. Clinton would do the best job of restoring good-paying jobs. Although the candidates had huge differences on many issues, in terms of job creation, I don’t think it would have mattered whom the American public chose. Neither candidate signaled that they were ready to take a sweeping new approach to job creation — and that is what the United States desperately needs.
One idea would be a gargantuan, government-led effort to identify and foster new industries that would create good-paying jobs. It would take a commitment in brainpower and money similar to the Manhattan Project that led to the atomic bomb, the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe, or the effort to land an astronaut on the moon. Those mega-efforts were incredible successes, and an all-out effort to create new industries and jobs could be, too.
The first step would be to create a Department of New Industries to lead the effort. Its leaders would be drawn from industry and have a record of innovation and business success. The department would create an advisory board consisting of entrepreneurs who had created successful start-ups, plus scientists, engineers, academics and researchers working on cutting-edge technology.
The advisers would help the department identify what industries could be tomorrow’s winners — and thus receive government support. That support should be substantial, including grants, subsidies, tax breaks and other rewards. Another department mandate would be to “max out” as soon as possible the potential of industries identified as winners.
Let’s use renewable energy as an example. A government-led effort to accelerate the potential of renewables would create good jobs, reduce the cost of the electricity and make the United States more energy-independent. Such an effort should include government grants to revamp electrical grids so they could handle more power from intermittent sources such as solar and wind.
it should also include grants to utilities for batteries that would store intermittently produced energy for later use.
An all-out government effort on renewables would help the United States become cleaner and produce more efficiently. More important, it would provide more Americans with the good-paying jobs needed to lift them out of a hand-to-mouth existence. The approach I’m describing would face substantial opposition from the American right.
But conservatives’ longtime approach of “get out of the way and let capitalism work” has failed to produce the jobs needed to restore millions to the middle class. A sweeping new approach to job creation is needed — one that is well-thought-out, well organized, well directed and well funded.
The United States has succeeded when it has embarked on such gargantuan efforts as the Manhattan Project.
It can do so again with the out-sized effort that would be needed to restore the middle class.