The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) last week released a new poll on The Emerging Politics of Globalization. The poll shows decidedly mixed feelings about the future of the economy:
1. Voters do not want to stop globalization entirely, but they are worried about its consequences. They want globalization to be controlled and made to benefit all of society.
2. Globalization is not feared in and of itself but there are rising concerns related to a more global world: child poverty, outsourcing, higher energy prices, greater terrorism, etc.
3. The public currently sees the benefits of globalization primarily in terms of lower prices for consumer goods.
4. Despite cheaper goods, however, voters see very significant costs associated with globalization. These costs include the possible loss of benefits, longer work hours/less time with the family, lower wages, and more job losses.
5. Americans remain optimistic about the future. Nonetheless, a large majority balances that optimism with a belief that a better economic life lies in protectionism and favors job security over income growth.
I noted with interest that the poll gave a generally positive response to the term “information economy”: 17% very positive, with total positive of 56% and total negative of only 15%. The reaction to “entrepreneur” was even stronger: 45% very positive, with total positive of 87% and total negative of 7%. That compares to the response for “corporations”: 14% very positive, with total positive of 55% and total negative of 41% and “outsourcing”: 4% very positive, with total positive of 22% and total negative of 63%. This is not surprising given that one of the greatest concerns raised about globalization was that companies are moving jobs overseas.
The mixed feelings about the direction of economy come out very strongly in the juxtaposition of two responses. First, an overwhelming 89% agreed with the statement “Americans are optimistic and America is most successful when we view change as an opportunity for success, rather than a threat to be resisted.” Yet, a majority (54%) responded that they wanted to limit change when asked the following, “Limit change and competition by ending unfair trade, reducing immigration, and producing more goods at home vs. adapt to changes in global trade, travel, and new technology by retraining workers and specializing in high-tech and information services.”
In part I think this dichotomy can be explained by the questions. While Americans are optimistic, they don’t believe that the current strategy of re-training and high-tech will work. As the poll points out:
There is no single idea or silver bullet for dealing with the expanse of issues created by globalization. An agenda for coping with the New Economy must include a wide range of programs — creating expanded 401(k)s, more flextime, incentives for alternative energy, and a greater sense of equity and fairness so that stock and option programs reach down to all the workers in each company.
The high level of uncertainty shown in the poll is not surprising. The I-Cubed Economy is changing people’s lives, often in dramatic ways. Yet our policy response has been “get used to it.” We throw generalizations at the problem: retrain yourself, educate your kids better. But we have no real strategy for coping or, better yet, guiding the change. High-tech will save us, we are told. But then we see all the electronic consumer goods coming from abroad and IT services jobs in competition from low cost producers around the world. We talk about creating high value added jobs, but the average Joe and Jane asks, “what about me.” We seen employment numbers rise, but in the retail and hospitality industries (where there are generally low wages).
As the report states in two separate places, First:
The challenge before leaders is to create an opportunity society in the face of a more uncertain world.
and then in the conclusions:
In the global era, American voters are waiting for a leader and party that can explain how globalization can be made to work for everyone.
That is a challenge we have only begun to address. And one that we really don’t yet even understand. We can start by throwing out our old mindsets and begin to think anew about this I-Cubed Economy. As was once said, ideas are like a rudder, a small change can bring about a large shift in direction. Time for that change in ideas.