David Phillips: ‘Challenge of our time’ not so easy to identify

By : 
David Phillips
Reflections from my Notebook

The exchange between letter-writers in the Bluff Country Reader on President Donald Trump’s lies and other polarizing traits may be interesting, but it is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about the man holding the highest office in the land. That’s because one statement by Trump that rings true today is when he told a crowd in Iowa on the campaign trail in 2016, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

Since he took office, he hasn’t shot anyone, but he has taken aim at various institutions — the press, the judiciary, the nation’s law enforcement, political opponents — that have blocked or criticized his agenda. Last week, he set his sights on four first-term congresswomen who have been outspoken and, not coincidentally, don’t look like most members of Congress.

He tweeted that the four “progressive Democrat congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”

Three of the women were born in the United States. The other, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, came here from Somalia when she was a teen. A war refugee, Omar became an American citizen at age 17 and has been elected to state and national office by Minnesota voters.

Many people living in this land of immigrants found Trump’s statement un-American. However, the controversial view only hardened opinions already formed by supporters and detractors. At a Trump rally in North Carolina, the president again attacked the four women, Omar in particular, until the crowd started chanting “send her back.”

People will draw their own conclusions about what this says about the state of our country today, but the interesting aspect is why Trump’s campaign is fanning hatred at supposed villains when it would seem he should be highlighting the booming economy under his administration.

There are many theories, but perhaps Trump, who touts simple fixes, finds the economy more complicated than it appears on the surface.

Yes, there is record low-unemployment, strong economic growth and a soaring stock market, but many people still feel insecure about their finances in this rapidly changing world. 

Some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are tapping into that anxiety by focusing on income inequality, arguing that Trump’s tax cuts mostly benefit the wealthy and big companies.

However, one candidate is talking about something else entirely — automation. Andrew Yang, who wasn’t given much time to explain his positions in the first Democratic debate, claims that the economic insecurity, a declining quality of life and a sense of desperation felt by many Americans due to the loss of 4 million manufacturing jobs, primarily in the Midwest, which led to a Trump victory in 2016, is actually a result of automation.

"We're in the third inning of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of our country," he tells people at his rallies.

The first inning was the deregulation of financial services, he explains. The second inning was the decimation of manufacturing work. The third inning, which we're going through now, is the obsolescence of brick and mortar retail. The fourth inning will be autonomous cars and trucks. The fifth inning, he predicts, will be artificial intelligence doing the work of call center workers, bookkeepers, and even accountants and lawyers.

Yang is a tech entrepreneur who founded Venture for America, a fellowship that sends recent college graduates to start businesses in middle-American cities such as Cleveland or Detroit.

Economists aren’t in universal agreement that automation will reduce employment to the degree Yang predicts, as advancing technology could also create new job opportunities. Still, that would be a shift, requiring new skills and new jobs for workers who don’t want to get left behind, something that likely wouldn’t ease the anxiety of an uncertain future.

Yang also has some novel ideas, such as a freedom dividend — $1,000 a month, no-strings attached, for every American over the age of 18. The dividend would help displaced workers transition from the old economy to the new one while stimulating local economies.

He would also replace gross domestic product (GDP) as the key measurement of the economy with an “American Scorecard” that takes into account life expectancy, average income, health outcomes, clean air and clean water. He would present the results each year during the State of the Union address using PowerPoint, as a tech guy would do.

His goal, he tells supporters, is “to solve the biggest challenge of our time.”

A few companies are already responding to that challenge. Amazon, for instance, recently announced it is planning to spend $700 million to retrain about a third of its American workers — from corporate employees to warehouse workers — to do more high-tech tasks. The company, which is in a dominant position because it is squeezing out traditional brick and mortar retail, acknowledges that technology is remaking jobs in nearly every industry, even those of economic disrupters.

Yang’s proposals, particularly the freedom dividend, haven’t received the scrutiny that ideas of major candidates have, and there are questions about his qualifications for president. Still, he is raising interesting ideas about economic security in an increasingly automated age.

It may be easier to vilify people — immigrants and minorities in the case of Trump or wealthy business owners in the case of some Democratic candidates — but complex technological advances that are playing out before our eyes, even if our mind can’t quite grasp the ramifications yet, appear to be the main source of our economic anxiety.

Who knows if Yang has the answers, but it does appear he is raising some important issues as we face what likely is “the biggest challenge of our time.”

 

Comments

Wow ,we know where you stand with your always bias opinions. Along side the media that for almost  3 years lied and gave daily hateful opiniions about Prsident Trump . The 4 SQUATTERS ,no doubt who are one of your favorite groups. have said some of the most vile and hateful things about America , Isreal and President Trump. Hmm funny they even called another one of your champion , N Pelosi a "RACIST". What say you about the 4 Squatters vile comments. President Trump has created millions of JOBS and an econnomy that has benefited ALL AMERICANS, unlike the utter failure of the last President, who ONLY INCREASED welfare ,food stamp , and lied about Obamacare. 
 The US ,for too long, has let other countries take advantage of our genoursity and $$$$$. Don't you comprehend  the US has no money to give to other countries. America has many needs   and giving taxpayer $$$ to others and not American citizens hasn't work. Why don't you jump in your Electric auto and travel to the West coast so that you can see over 100 k homeless  in cities like LA ,SFO ,SEA and PDX. 
Have a great Trip ,the weather in Oregon is great !!!!