It’s been a politically hot summer: Russians, Failed Healthcare Reform, Scandals, Conflicts of Interest, Lies, Nazis, Tiki Torches, Antifa, Marches, Civil War Statues, and the “cherry” on our “chaos sundae”: Hurricane Harvey, a heartbreak of an incredible magnitude. Whew! We need a vacation from our vacation!
As I watch the news, an odd sensation comes over me. As if the same film reel has been running for 60 years: same issues, the same faux outrage, finger-pointing rhetoric, and the same politics line-up around the thread-bare themes of the 20th Century. The projector stops and the film burns through…fade to white and one question appears: When will the 21st Century start?!
In the US our politics has become outdated and unable to fully face the challenges of the 21st Century. You can see it in the rhetoric from our 70 year old politicians: a confusion, a retreat, a turning away from a daunting future, a childish wish for a past where things were easy and simple. Well guess what, the 21st Century is not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be simple. Instead of our leaders leveling with us, all we hear are the hollow promises of post-WWII America.
So here it is. We are facing one of the biggest societal upheavals since the industrial revolution, but this revolution is not fought on Karl Marx’s 20th Century terms (labor vs capital), this revolution is being “fought” by Tech (digitization, automation, AI, Industry 4.0, et al.) which is “at war” with Human Labor itself. Everyone from Accountants, Financial Planners, Lawyers, and Doctors to Truck Drivers, IT Technicians, Cashiers, and Bank Tellers is in the crosshairs of Tech. Some experts predict that 50% of jobs will be gone by 2025.
Work: the thing that defines us, gives us dignity and purpose, the reason for the miracle of our Middle Class, the basis of our tax system. What are the implications of a world where human labor is devalued to zero? And what our are backward-facing politicians doing to prepare us for this revolution? The answer is…nothing; they are doing nothing to prepare and unite us for this fight. They are too busy fighting the trite culture wars of the 1960’s because our system incentivizes them to do so. If that weren’t bad enough, they are simply out of ideas. The politics of distraction pays, it keeps us triggered, in fear of our neighbor, and (most importantly) it keeps us watching the TV through the Life Alert commercials; meanwhile Rome burns.
But wait…it’s not all gloom and doom. We are in a 10 year “twilight” of human labor where, if you have marketable skills and are mobile, you will survive and maybe thrive. However, for those left behind there is only more confusion, angst, division, scapegoating, and a susceptibility to demagoguery.
Forget about blame and fault (there’s too much to go around). No political party can claim “clean hands” from pedaling the politics of distraction. Instead, let’s imagine a solution, a clean slate, a new party. A party that faces the 21st Century head-on! What would such a party look like? The Politics of the 21st Century must:
1. Fully enter, occupy, and engage the 21st Century. No more hiding, no more distraction.
2. Embrace fact-based decision making (empirical evidence, peer reviewed works, and the reliance on experts). Seeing “strikes” instead of “balls” when it suits your team is the greatest from of distraction.
3. Discard outdated notions of Left and Right in order to focus on solving our biggest and most pressing problems. Marxian terms like “labor” and “means of production” hold no meaning in a future where AI owns your mortgage.
4. Address the digitization & automation revolution and its effects on the value of human labor. I’m open for suggestions, but we need to get ahead of this, 80,000 Class A truck driver jobs are at risk (for example). Additionally, because automation replaces a tax payer, who will fill that tax-void for our police, schools, and roads?
5. Long term strategic thinking: Investments in people, infrastructure, employment, and businesses. Short term thinking has lead to wasteful spending and our nation’s atrophy.
6. Unity over digital tribalism: Coalition-building across many diverse and disparate groups. Identity politics is dead. This fight requires us to work together!
7. Detente on the Culture Wars of the 20th Century: abortion, gun rights, identity politics, etc. These issues have never created a job or educated a kid. Enough is enough.
8. Restore western democratic norms and institutions: the rule of law, separation of powers, anti-corruption, and the sanctity of the vote. I can’t stress this enough. Democracy is the worst form of government…except all others.
9. The protection of shared natural resources and the human biosphere. 98% of the world’s climate scientists agree, climate change is real. One way or another, we’ll pay for climate change. Let’s talk about it like adults.
I’m sure there are many more ways we need to restructure our politics to face the 21st Century, let’s open our minds to the discussion and move forward together. The future is here and time waits for no one.