Huffpost Business
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Michael Ford Headshot

How We See the Future

Posted: Updated:

"A majority now believes, after the end of the so-called American Century and victory in the Cold War, that the world is looking elsewhere in terms of future success or direction."

The State of the American Dream Survey

You might expect that the American Dream would appear to be in trouble in the midst of the longest recession since the great Depression. However, the first "State of the American Dream Survey" from Xavier University's Institute for Politics and the American Dream indicates the problems perceived by Americans are much deeper than this recession.

To recover the 8.4 million jobs lost so far in this recession would already require creation of 175,000 new jobs every month for 48 consecutive months --- just to get even with December 2007.

The only time in US history when new job creation equaled 175,000 per month was in the 1990s when the Internet was commercialized and the world was first digitized, monies were transferred electronically, all glitz/no substance dot.coms grew like typhoid, cell phone usage and the stock market exploded and real estate blossomed at "Tulip Mania" multiples.

Here's the point amplified by the Dream Survey.

The American people know that there is no new industry or set of industries on the horizon capable of creating 175,000 American jobs per month in the global economy.

This can only come from beyond the horizon --- in currently unknown industries.

Let's face it, 76% of the jobs in America's economy are service jobs. This is the highest such percentage in the developed world. Service jobs are primarily about maintenance, not growth. US tech firms have been moving to emerging markets because they can get the same work at 1/5th the cost.

Technology as we know it cannot save the day, because it relies on newer and cheaper iterations of increasingly mature industries and worn technologies. This may well lead to productivity increases, but that creates profits, not jobs. As legendary Wall Streeter Leon Levy writes, "one point of productivity eliminates about 1.3 million jobs." As a point of context, it took the entire decade of the 1980s to create 1.3 million jobs.

For the first time in 100 years, a majority of Americans doubt that the US will create the future.

75% of us "don't think the rest of the world looks up to America and our society the way it used to. This has nothing to do with the recession but it has a lot to do with doubting the achievement of the dream for next generations.

Americans have not lost confidence in themselves. Nearly two-thirds still see themselves as achieving the Dream. It's their kids and grandkids they're worried about.

But they have lost confidence and have little faith in the stable of leaders in the political and corporate world. There is no political advantage here for anyone. Americans know that the structural changes in this global economy give no credit for past performances.

Perhaps we are inured to the "legacy problem." America's traditional confidence that each generation's lot will improve over the last has eroded, and we seem to be getting used to it.

What will happen? What can happen is what happened in 1961 when the US emerged from the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union; when the Cold War peaked. It was the year when the Berlin Wall was constructed. Tension between the US and Soviet Russia was the central global fact.

Also in 1961, Soviet Premier Khrushchev promised at the 22nd Communist Party Congress that within 20 years the Soviets would outproduce America in all of the major industrial sectors -- coal, steel, cement, fertilizer, tractors etc.

And they did too.

This would have been a major achievement if it had been 1951 and not 1981. The US had moved on with an explosion of imagination and invention, and created a new technological world to which the rest of the world had to conform.

The American people want to believe that we still possess the daring-do leadership and burning inventiveness to do it again -- but they doubt it right now. Who could blame them when we look around at political warriors engaged in Pyrrhic warfare and timid corporate leaders concerned for the next quarter not the next decade.

Inventing the future is the dream's signature because that is what freedom and opportunity uniquely allow -- but cannot guarantee.

This article posted originally at http://www.xavier.edu/politics.