This is gonna be a long one...
Setting the Stage
In mere weeks, we will experience an election cycle that may well shift power in the Congress from one partisan group to another. And, the result may well be utter gridlock for the next two years, or more, perpetuating the challenges we face in terms of economic recovery, also threatening global economic growth, cooperation and security.
Now is the time to rise above partisanship and division. Now is the time to rise above the past. Now is the time to rise above nationalism. Now is the time to recognize and and leverage our role as a global leader – a leader among leaders - and to drive, as a trusted partner, global security and economic growth and development.
The last few years have been trying for Americans. Our financial system has suffered severe disruption, our housing market has yet to recover, health care remains out of reach for millions, unemployment is sky high and, terribly painful to watch, our college graduates are struggling to land their first jobs. Our national confidence is shaken. And hard.
Some Historical Perspective
You know, empires rarely fall, they usually just evolve, over time, into something new, sometimes lesser, sometimes better, richer, fuller.
China’s history of empire dates back millennia. Rome for centuries straddled multiple continents. Britain once famously ruled the waves. The Soviet Union not so long ago dominated an empire from Eastern Europe to the Bering Straits.
Today, China is evolving into a market-based global economic powerhouse, the UK remains a bastion of freedom and democracy. Rome lies at the heart of Italy, itself a member of the broader, united and peaceful European Union. The former Soviet States are a mere two decades into re-establishing themselves, but with positive momentum – and some concern - while Eastern Europe already thrives in free market democracy.
And, here, in the U.S., we are at a crossroads, a dramatic inflection point, a defining moment in time.
Ours is a unique history. We are a young nation, with a relatively short history, at least when viewed from a global perspective. While brief, our history has been at times arduous, at others terribly painful, on some occasions shameful, but most often brave, and full of promise. Ours has indeed been a history defined by a powerful belief in and commitment to what we have perceived to be our manifest destiny.
Over the last century, we have fought two World Wars and have engaged in multiple smaller, but vital, conflicts. We have endured the tension and occasional terror of almost 50 years of Cold War. We have suffered through a Great Depression, and multiple, if less dramatic, but still painful, and recent, recessions. We have survived horrific terrorist attacks on our Homeland.
Yet, through it all, we have prospered, creating entire new and marvelous industries – from aircraft to the Internet. Indeed, in many ways, as a direct result of our initiative, our leadership, our protection, our shining example of free market democracy, the world has matured around us. With obvious exceptions, democracy and free markets are flourishing. Our tide has lifted all boats.
Yet now, again, we are at a crossroads, a dramatic inflection point, a defining moment in time.
When our original thirteen colonies came together, it was no easy feat. There was great distrust among the colonies, distrust that survived the eventual Union, distrust that later fueled a brutal Civil War, distrust that still exists today, to some extent. But, through common cause, we found Union, and through common cause, we have maintained Union.
Our common cause is as strong as ever. But our status on the world stage has changed dramatically over the last two decades as a result of globalization, the spread of democracy, and the development of more and more vibrant economies overseas.
A Brave New World
The geopolitical stage is fundamentally different than it was 25 years ago. While we remain a prominent leader in the world, we are but one leader among others. And, likewise, the global economic ecosystem has fundamentally changed, and not for the short term. It is not just the manufacturing of basic mass-market goods that has spread offshore, but innovation and intellectual capital as well.
And in the midst of all of this, through and beyond our most recent recession, our financial system has suffered severe disruption, our housing market has yet to recover, adequate health care remains out of reach for millions of Americans, our unemployment rate is frighteningly high and, finally, again, terribly painful to watch, our college graduates are struggling to land their first jobs.
And, very worrisome, our culture and society are seemingly evolving from what was an historical tendency to “rally around” common causes to a new-born fear-uncertainly-and-doubt inspired inclination to “rally against” pretty much anything. Sadly, and perhaps ironically, the output of the digital revolution that fueled our growth at the turn of the last Millennium - immediate and ubiquitous digital communications - is now fueling far more radical and irrational emotion than productive and rational discourse. How else, for instance, would a seeming madman in Florida, with a congregation of mere dozens, gain not just White House but worldwide attention to his intent to burn a copy of the Koran?
Let me say it yet again: We are at a crossroads, a dramatic inflection point, a defining moment in time. The world has moved on. It is time to change our worldview.
This will be no easy task.
Putting aside defense-related issues for the moment, in terms of our global economic relations, it is time for us to recall the experience of uniting thirteen colonies - our nation - around common cause. It is time to build or re-build common cause and all-important trust on a global stage - with our competitors and partners alike. Our common global tide will lift all boats. This is our manifest destiny, as redefined by globalization.
Those in the Congress and elsewhere that believe that reviving industrial age, government-inspired market-distorting barriers to trade will benefit American companies, workers and our economy in general are wrong. Such measures, in a tightly interwoven global economy with supply chains spanning borders and oceans and integrated products demanding inputs from markets around the world, will inevitably hurt us more than they help us.
For instance, U.S. companies are prevented from participating in energy sector business in Iran. The intent is laudable – we do not want to see a radical regime further its potential to develop nuclear weapons. By cordoning off our own companies, we leave the doors open for companies based elsewhere to take the business, undermining our intent. So, Congress has crafted legislation to sanction foreign-based companies that engage in Iran’s energy sector – blocking their potential business opportunities in the U.S. if they do business in Iran. As a result, major European energy companies have announced their intent to stay out or get out of Iran. But that still leaves the rest of the planet, including no shortage of Chinese-based energy companies. So, the Congress fires up the rhetoric and the Administration puts the diplomatic screws to China, further exacerbating tensions with that country that range from a growing trade imbalance, China’s currency policy, Chinese intellectual property protection, Internet freedom, cyber-security, Taiwan, Tibet, and so on and so forth. Was this our intent? No. Our intent was to prevent Iran from developing Nuclear weapons. Might we not be better off going back to square one and allow U.S. energy companies to engage in Iran? We’d certainly have better insight into what’s happening, and, well, we’d be supporting American jobs and economic benefit as well.
Similar arguments could be applied to applying countervailing duties on Chinese products to force China to allow its currency to float more freely. Who pays? U.S retailers, consumers, and other companies that rely on Chinese inputs, etc. And should China retaliate in some fashion, throw U.S. exporters into the mix as well.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am no apologist for Chinese human or intellectual property rights or other violations, nor for corruption or nuclear irresponsibility in Russia, nor for regimes of terror or suppression in countries like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. I’m just highlighting that industrial age tools and, for that matter, Cold War sabre-rattling, are no longer sensible in a globalized economy. We need new tools for a new age. We need to accept a new role in a new age. We need to acknowledge that we have a lot of our own historical baggage, and that we should work with global partners to help them unload theirs, perhaps faster than we did ours.
It is, again, time to adjust our worldview. We may be one of the world’s largest economies, we may well be the world’s largest consumer market, but we are only 4% of the global population. When one looks at the world stage today – from outside the U.S. – one perceives the U.S. as a leader, but not “the” leader. We are one among many.
Let us work as a trusted and equal partner to create models for further cooperation and mutual endeavor. Let us redefine globalization. Let us create opportunity and trust. Let us find common cause. Rather than putting up walls and barriers, let us recognize the realities of globalization and, for instance, create an environment, powered by tax or other incentives, and a workforce that combined are so attractive that we compel offshore multinationals to further invest in America, to create new American jobs, to support new livelihoods. It doesn’t matter where the corporate headquarters is anymore - our combined tides will lift all boats.
Our Challenges at Home
We must prioritize our challenges so that we address those that will best serve our future.
After September 11, the U.S. learned a new phrase, one that had been popular in other English speaking countries for many years: Homeland Security. The popular perception of Homeland Security is the folks working airport security and border patrols. But, of course, it goes well beyond that.
When I think of Homeland Security, however, I think about what sort of job opportunities my kids may have when they enter the workforce. I think about how we might drive true economic renewal. I think about the sacrifices that will be necessary to lay the groundwork for a true and lasting recovery.
The U.S. was once a manufacturing giant, but much of our manufacturing industry has moved offshore, where labor and infrastructure are less expensive. The U.S. was once the leading exporter of many agricultural products, but other countries are now shipping wheat and beef and the like, eclipsing our own exports. The U.S. was the birthplace of the modern “service economy,” but many of those jobs – call centers, etc. – have also moved offshore, for cost and competitiveness reasons. The U.S. delivered the world the Internet, and the world has innovated around it, with research and development also having become a global process.
Are we devoting the appropriate energy and resources to and are we educating and training our children for the job opportunities they can aspire to? Are we managing their expectations appropriately – do we want to risk another alienated generation like the one that grew up during the Internet boom, graduated from college, and waited for six figure jobs to magically materialize while their parents sought the same opportunity? Are we guiding students to leverage their strengths in terms of their ultimate occupation. Have we forgotten the concepts of apprentice, journeyman and master and trades in our headlong rush to extend the high school experience another four years vainly hoping that a degree alone will guarantee wealth and status? Have we forgotten that personal fulfillment and happiness can be achieved without wealth and status?
Our true economic recovery will begin with education. If only we might invest in training and equipping our teachers in the same way we do our soldiers…
We should look to other markets and learn from their success, and restructure our approach to education to mirror those most successful. And let’s do it right. Which means not on the cheap. Now more than ever, we need to invest in our future, in our childrens’ future.
U.S. defense spending accounts for just under one half of the entire world’s defense outlay.
Yes, we must provide for our common defense. Yes, we must be prepared to address true threats to our country, including new and sophisticated cyber threats. And yes, we must be prepared to come to the aid of allies and the severely oppressed. But, in the context of our dire need to recover and renew our economy and the livelihoods of Americans, we must also reconsider our priorities.
Since September 11, 2001, Congress had appropriated more than one trillion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world.
Even some small fraction of those funds could have rehabilitated or built and equipped all new American schools, fielded an army of high-quality and appropriately compensated teachers, and subsidized hundreds of thousands of America’s brightest to attend university without the burden of overwhelming debt upon graduation.
Another small fraction of those funds might have contributed to the build-out of truly ubiquitous broadband – extending the Internet to virtually every American – an infrastructure build-out that would rival that of the national highway system decades ago, and with an impact equally profound in terms of education, training and future innovation.
And, slightly off topic, yet another small portion of those funds could have provided adequate health care for virtually all of America’s uninsured, until such day that we actually deliver on our responsibility to craft a universal health care system that does indeed protect all Americans.
A Fundamental Mindshift
Accepting that our status in the world has changed is a challenge for Americans. Manifest destiny was not just a 19th century policy, it has been an unsung American cultural driver since that time, and through today. It guides how we feel about ourselves as a people, as a nation – a sense of our history, our people, our nation as somehow exceptional.
We are no less exceptional today than we were yesterday or one hundred years ago, or than we will be 100 years from now. America remains a shining beacon and example of hope and aspiration for peoples across the world. But our status has changed, as other countries - complementary and competing global and economic powerhouses - have closed ranks with and around us.
A new day calls for new ways. We are at a crossroads, a dramatic inflection point, a defining moment in time.
Let us meet the challenge. Let us work as a trusted and equal partner on the global stage to create models for further cooperation and mutual endeavor. Let us redefine globalization. Let us create opportunity and trust. Let us find common cause. Let us not miss the opportunity to embrace change and in so doing, recover and renew as a global leader among leaders, with a strong, healthy and resilient homeland...