12/16/2014 09:15 am ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

The Policy Challenge of the New Age

Elections bring victory, but not peace. No sooner had the returns from the November elections been collected than the Republicans and Democrats were again locked in combat, not with each other, but among themselves, trying to decide what it all means and what they should do next.

The Republicans are basically divided into two camps. One sees their victory as a mandate to put aside extremist rhetoric in favor of getting things done; the other as a call to arms to stymie the Obama administration's plans for health care and immigration reform, even if it means another government shutdown. Those agendas are not compatible.

For their part, the Democrats are even more disoriented seeking scapegoats for their defeat and arguing about what they should do next. Should they move more toward the political center or embrace the radical nostrums of Sen. Elizabeth Warner, the rising star of the left? These options also are not compatible.

What's missing on the political scene is comprehension of the transformation underway driven by advancing technologies which are changing the way we live, work and interact with each other and other nations. This is a sea change comparable to what our ancestors went through in the late 1800s as we shifted from agriculture to industry. We migrated from a world in which 90 percent of the people worked in agriculture to one in which less than 5 percent produces much more food than the 90 percent of the earlier age. The transition was difficult and often violent as the new wealth created by industry ended up in a few hands while millions struggled to put food on the table.

Today we are shifting into another new age -- this one of advanced technologies that are rendering obsolete more and more job skills, creating vast wealth for a few while leaving millions idle or underemployed. The digital revolution is rapidly remaking virtually every phase of the way we work and live, and the pace of change is accelerating. The dizzying pace of innovation is creating wonderful new opportunities and also unexpected challenges. This is the same kind of trauma our ancestors went through and like them we are having trouble recognizing the change and coming up with innovative new policies for adapting to it.

Too many of our political leaders remain wedded to obsolete ideologies and anxieties, caught up on partisan gamesmanship, oblivious to the new reality bearing down on us. There should be only one goal -- to make the new technologies work effectively for everyone, not just a few at the top. Some of the remedies are clear. We have a desperate need to increase economic growth by upgrading our nation's infrastructure, boosting capital investment and R&D, creating innovative private-public partnerships and, most importantly, developing an education/training system that prepares people for productive jobs in the new economy. The party that can grasp that dynamic and make it their own will be the party of the future.


Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements. December 2014