- An American RenaissanceHow It Is Happening, How to Nudge It Along, Why We Should Care
The context for this essay is my modest assertion that the beginning of an American manufacturing renaissance is hiding in plain sight. This renaissance will dominate the next few decades, starting in about 2014. It will be built on a foundation that no one could predict and no leader or political ideology has created. It will be driven by deep trends, both domestic and global, and we cannot stop it. We can slow it down if we are stupid; but if we are smart, this renaissance could enable us to diminish dramatically many of the crises we now see in American life. It will both require and open the way for a new politics.
This essay does not represent the whole of my argument. I’ve been pondering this assertion, which embodies a completely uncharacteristic optimism on my part, for the last two years, during which time, as a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, I’ve been holding a seminar series called The Next American Economy. I’ll describe the full argument briefly, but will focus here primarily on what I describe as the emergence of a new business system.
I begin with brief thoughts regarding current conventional wisdom about America and the American economy, and then turn to an alternate view that I’ve called an American renaissance. I then discuss the new business system referred to above, and conclude with a discussion of opportunities and politics. It won’t surprise anyone that my views on American politics are closely aligned with Pogo’s infamous statement: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I want to give fair warning that this is an essay and not a scholarly paper. I’m not trying to prove anything but instead offering pure conjecture, and at the moment I have precious little data with which to back it up. I am fully aware that I am violating a fundamental precept: never make predictions, particularly about the future. [End Page 15]
We currently are in the throes of another spasm of American declinism. We as a nation are old, perhaps “mature,” definitely tired. Economic growth will continue to be slow as the rest of the world—read “China”—passes us. Americans don’t know how to make things anymore, as we have lost our manufacturing base. We aren’t creating good jobs anymore, as they are being outsourced to foreigners, who in turn are buying up America. Free trade has destroyed us, and the Great Recession has created a lost generation. The middle class has been hollowed out, we are creating a permanent underclass, and labor market polarization is creating an economy characterized by a few elites and a large number of nearly serf-like workers. Meanwhile, our educational system has failed miserably and mass unemployment in the technology fields is around the corner . . . this tale of decline can be spun out indefinitely.
Both wings of American politics believe in America’s economic decline, and each blames it on the other. The right attributes this decline to a turning away from free markets and points to government as the real menace. The left ascribes the inevitable decline to unbridled capitalism and business, insufficient government, and unprincipled rent-taking by the elite 1 percent.
To be clear, both the horrors listed above and these two versions of conventional wisdom contain some important truths. The right’s perception that America’s renaissance will begin within our relatively free markets is correct. The left’s perceptions that economic inequality and declining opportunities for economic mobility are major problems in America and that government has an essential role to play in the American renaissance are also mostly correct. But in the main, both versions of conventional wisdom are more a reflection of our society’s penchant for ideological polarization than they are interesting or well-thought-out social criticisms and explanations. However, more relevant for this essay is the high probability that the predictions embodied in the core belief of an impending American decline caused largely by the sins of the other guy...