Employment and the Election

Here we go again. Time for another national election to choose a new Congress and a new president. The feeling in the air is that this election is more urgent and consequential than our garden variety face-offs, particularly at the presidential level. If this choice of president is viewed as fundamentally determinative of the direction the country will proceed, as both Republicans and Democrats are claiming, then great attention will be paid and hopefully significant participation realized, which together should lead to a substantive and declarative outcome-like it or not.

Typically, “It’s the economy, stupid!”. This time the sense is, “It’s the culture, stupid!”. Without getting into the developmental concerns related to our civilization’s maturation or lack thereof, economic claims, projections, and promises will likely continue to drive much of the partisan discussion. Are we Americans going to orient ourselves toward the past in an attempt to retain economic successes driven by tried and true practices previously delivered by legacy-styled business operatives or are we instead going to innovate and design for a paradigm-shifting economic future characterized by increasing competition, transformation, and multiculturalism? The decision we make will have consequences for the vitality of the economy going forward and for the employment it will spawn.

Conventional wisdom states that if the economy is sufficiently robust, then vigorous employment will take care of itself. Indeed, high employment levels are intrinsic to a strong economy. Widespread employment matters. So it’s worth examining the economic approaches both parties are offering to see who is most prepared to fashion a jobs-rich environment over the next four years. Here is my broad summary of the selection before us.

Donald Trump has shown us his economic priorities through past performance, which included low unemployment rates. Given that Republicans didn’t present a party platform this year we have to assume they are thinking ‘steady as she goes’. The Trump administration’s economic focus has been on individual and corporate tax cuts, deregulation targeted primarily to the energy and financial sectors, trade protectionism, immigration restriction, and rejection of a federal role in providing universal healthcare. In recent months there have also been attempts to resurrect the economy from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic by promoting a reopening or ‘get back to normal’ agenda.

Joe Biden, despite pressure for the Democratic Party’s left flank, is not proposing sweeping or revolutionary changes to the economy, but does advance ambitious federal interventions nevertheless. Principally, he is centered on reinvigorating America’s middle class by encouraging greater inclusivity across lines of race and levels of education with less income inequality and a reclamation of optimism born of opportunity. He wants to expand Obamacare, impose a more progressive tax code, eliminate middle class student debt, raise the federal minimum wage, encourage low-carbon manufacturing, combat climate change, and much more. Biden/Harris also have a 7-point detailed plan to defeat Covid and plan for future such threats.

Both the incumbent and the challenger want full employment. Which ideology is likely to produce this universally desired outcome? Excluding all other factors, which will influence who gets my vote, I see the following as salient with regards to employment.

The past 150 years has generated great economic advancements resulting in profound improvements in the lives of many millions, both as consumers and as producers. We’ve learned a lot about how to engender wealth and to provide life enhancing products and services. There are lessons from the past worth carrying on, but the past is gone. What we have to look forward to is the future with all of its uncertainty and ambiguity. Meeting this challenge requires a mindset that sees more opportunity than threat from the future. I think it is this frame of mind that impresses me more than tactics and positions. Durable, but resilient employment will best come from an outlook that sees the world as it really is and enthusiastically leans into the contest.