Sunday, June 14, 2015

Off to the Races

The 2016 Presidential Race is just starting to heat up, in the heat of early Summer of 2015 (heck, technically, it's still Spring).  It goes without saying that when Capitalism becomes the religion of a nation (and of the High Court), markets and the multitude of industries that benefit are going to push to expand the multi-billion dollar enterprise of elections as much as possible.

Every politician's job is to convince us, the voters, that they understand the problems facing our country, and have a prescription to solve the problems that they have identified.  This exercise has already led us to a theme that appears to resonate across political boundaries (which makes it uniquely powerful):

Personal economic malaise and the invisible thumb on the scale tilting the game away from the average voter.

Yes, there are many other issues at stake. And both parties will attempt mightily to convince voters of the importance of a specific issue where they feel they have an advantage (foreign policy, social issues, immigration). However, the economic transformation that's occurring in the U.S. affects the vast majority of voters - independent of their race, color, creed or location - and will likely remain the single issue that will drive votes next year (barring, of course, a terrorist attack or global financial meltdown - both examples of incidents that affected the outcomes of prior presidential races).

While one would presume that Democrats would have the edge in economic equality and fairness, their message can easily be re-framed by the Republican message of increasing opportunity by expanding the wealth bucket vs. transferring wealth from "makers to takers." Democratic candidates risk being pigeonholed as a tax-increasing liberals -- looking to simply tax the rich (makers) to distribute wealth to the poor (takers). The Achilles Heel of this policy is that Republicans have fully optimized the political language to put Democrats on their heels: "Democrats want to increase taxes" -- which is true. They just don't mention whose taxes are being raised, and without lying, they can make it sound like everyone's taxes will be raised, scaring voters away from any kind of policy that attempts to implement progressive taxation rules.

To mitigate this all-but-certain dynamic, it would be wise for Democrats to develop innovative policies to the economic issues facing America today that do more that simply tax some to enable others. Advancing innovation solutions would confuse Republicans because their default rhetoric would not stick; leaving them to spend time and money developing new counter-messaging to scare people away from such liberal schemes. And it may not even work.

Similarly, it would be wise for Republicans to develop innovative policies to these same economic challenges that would not so easily arm Democrats with the messaging of painting Republicans as heartless capitalists who only care about the rich getting richer and do not care about those caught in the cross-hairs of a seismic economic transformation that has only just begun.

Lastly, it would benefit both parties and all candidates to come to terms with the fact that our economic issues are systemic, and not singularly based on any one philosophical argument or policy. On the discussion site Quora, I asked the community if Capitalism had run its course. The answers I got were instructive. What I learned is that Capitalism isn't the problem or the solution; rather, it's a process that, when managed properly, is so far the best system of economic development we know of.  However, in America, we've corrupted Capitalism while still thinking we're purists.

Both parties would do well to acknowledge that the issues we face today are not that of specific policies, candidates or even Capitalism itself; rather, the issues are driven by the natural self-interests of large entities (government and private) that suck up the economic oxygen in the system.

Cataclysmic rhetoric will undoubtedly be slung by each side, but when looking at the situation with sober analysis, one of the pressing issues is the overall bigness of all types of powerful systems and institutions. "Too Big To Fail" is a catchphrase that has stuck in the political zeitgeist, opening up a message avenue for "Too Big for X" - to make just about any point a candidate would like to make.

Another dynamic affecting our economy is the historic economic transfer of wealth from developed nations to developing nations as our global systems continue to interconnect and barriers continue to dissolve. This transition started in earnest during the 90s, with the Cold War ceasing, China entering the WTO, and related trade policies such as NAFTA. These events are not necessarily bad; in fact, they were likely inevitable. But for every policy, there are winners and losers, and we need to be aware that globalization and its affiliated trade policies created new centers of wealth as well as a new populations of economic losers. Through this, new levels of consolidated power emerged, while concurrently short-circuiting the economic prospects of tens of millions of average workers whose work value has become commoditized and historically deflated.

Given the drivers of our economic challenges, it will require a lot more than simply re-hashing policies from the 1950's-1970's, where the bulk of modern progressive and conservative policies were hatched. Both parties need to continue to deconstruct -- and then re-craft -- their policy solutions so that they truly address the new, hyper-connected and increasingly disinter-mediated era in which we now live.