Global Economy And The American Dream

Posted on January 20, 2008

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Now comes the news that they’re building cars north of the border, in Canada, instead of in Michigan.

Why? Because they have health care in Canada.

Turns out that international corporations prefer to do business in countries where they don’t have to pay health insurance for workers. That would include every modern, industrialized country, except the United States.

Democratic candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all say: “Vote for me because I’ll be the best change agent.” They’re onto something, but do they have it upside down?

Will the next presidency be all about working to imagine and create change in the United States?

Or will the next presidency be all about reacting to change in the world?

As the anecdote about building cars in Canada illustrates, the world has changed, and the U.S. has fallen behind. The question facing the next president (most likely Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, or less likely, John McCain) is: “How far behind are we, and what changes should we make to catch up or at least to adjust?”

I hope and pray that Obama, Clinton and McCain have read The World is Flat. A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. If the candidates haven’t read this book, they are hopelessly lost. Mr. Friedman explains globalization of the economy in a way that even I can understand. He traces the present burst of globalization to the Berlin Wall coming down Windows coming up (Microsoft Windows!).

Several books offer insight on jobs and income, and the flip side of that coin, unemployment and poverty. I hope the candidates have read The End of Work. The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era, by economist Jeremy Rifkin. Published in 1995, the book was ahead of its time.

For a more recent take, read The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences, by Louis Uchitelle, published in 2006; and The Working Poor. Invisible in America, by David K. Shipler, published in 2004.

The Two-Income Trap. Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke (With Surprising Solutions That Will Change Our Children’s Futures), by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, examines income, family, housing, and education issues.

And if presidential candidates are wondering about change and the future of the American Dream, they could read Graceful Simplicity. Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream, by Jerome Segal; and The European Dream. How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, by Jeremy Rifkin.

Nothing is new, some say, not even change. But never before has change come so fast and furiously. Who can predict what unexpected changes may confront Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain in the foggy future? The changes already on the radar screen are scary enough.

One more thing: Under ordinary circumstances, people strenuously resist change. Change causes stress. People would rather deal with the devils they know than the devils they don’t know. The next president will need to lead the American people in responding to change, whether we like it or not. — Bernie Hayden

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