Blog - Page 3 of 8 - Eric Schnurer

5
Jul

Hopi & Change

Growing up in Arizona, I was fascinated with Native cultures, particularly those of the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest. Arizona afforded ample opportunity to experience how these peoples had lived a thousand years earlier, in such ruins as Casa Grande south of Phoenix (conveniently located near the San Francisco Giants’ practice facility) and particularly Montezuma’s Castle near Sedona, a largely still-intact multi-story, mud-walled apartment complex dramatically set in the massive hollow of a red-rock cliff wall.

Most fascinating of all to me were the Hopi, who still live largely in the same villages they have populated since even before the prehistoric peoples who built Phoenix’s extensive canal system disappeared into the mists of history. Old Oraibi on Second Mesa, one of three huge, table-like formations rising from the desert floor in Hopi territory, is the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in North America.

The Hopi learned to coax agriculture from a land without water, building an elaborate cosmology based on harmony and balance with the universe and mediated by spirits represented by the famed and colorful katsinas (or “kachinas”) that appear at their frequent ceremonials. They lived a communal existence and disdained the warlike ways of others around them, especially those that began to move into the Southwest several centuries ago in response to the aggressive westward spread of the strange European civilizations that had planted themselves on the continent’s East Coast. A well-known film, with score by the modern composer Phillip Glass, juxtaposes our modern life with that of the Hopi, appropriately under the title Koyaanisqatsi – a Hopi word meaning “life out of balance.”

I spent my childhood summers in northern Arizona learning to ride a horse, fire a rifle, and shoot a bow-and-arrow (two out of three of which I still do with some degree of proficiency). I also met White Bear, a Hopi artist and repository of Hopi esoteric wisdom (he was the main informant for the best-seller, Book of the Hopi), who taught me Hopi history and epistemology.

I spent a sweltering summer night camping on a desolate hillside outside Oraibi so I could rise before dawn to be among the few non-Hopi to watch the sunrise ceremonial celebrating the departure of the katsina spirits for their winter home near the Grand Canyon. Even today I keep several Hopi katsinas displayed on a special shelf in my home. I love the iconography, the colors, the timelessness rooted in the natural world of a special, ancient place. Somehow, I’ve always felt a special connection with the Hopi.

So I was thrilled when my consulting firm, Public Works, was selected to assist the Hopi Tribe in a long-term project to assess and strengthen its school system. I returned there last week for the first time in decades, to kick off the project. A big part of the assignment is helping the Hopi to find the right balance between preparing students to succeed in the challenges of a 21st Century world while at the same time preserving the distinctive Hopi values, culture, religion and even language in the face of the very same challenges. This, of course, is in many ways the same problem facing rural communities across America, although the issue is particularly acute for distinct peoples like the Hopi.

The Hopi live in roughly a dozen widely-scattered, centuries-old villages, most with their own local school and all strongly protective of their local prerogatives, local customs, even individual dialects. At the same time, they have an open enrollment system whereby students can attend the school of their choice – some traveling 90 minutes each way to attend the school their families deem best. In fact, in many ways, the Hopi schools are models of the kinds of education “reforms” we’ve studied around the country – a lithe central administration; building-based control, budgeting, and educational programming; a recognition that good principals create good learning communities that attract the best teachers and committed parents; and empowered parents who “vote with their feet” as to the school’s performance.

Of course, there’s a role even here for system-wide functions. Up in Hopi, this starts with coordinating the vast transportation network for the schools. But our tasks, as in all such performance reviews, include identifying where else efficiencies can be realized through economies of scale or coordination, or whether the community’s values can best be realized through delegation and empowerment – and, as with all things Hopi, how best to find the natural balance.

As always, I welcome your comments below.

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7
Jun

Why I Write What I Write

In the last few weeks, I’ve written several articles on ostensibly different subjects – climate change, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and the collapse of the Republicans’ domestic agenda – that actually share a much deeper underlying unity.

Part of that interconnectedness comes from the confluence of so many subjects these days:  I learned of Trump’s decision on the Paris accords, for instance, during a meeting on the “Future of Government” – the subject I teach at UChicago – with strategists at European Union headquarters in Brussels, where I was moderating a panel on the US presidential election at a conference on rising populism with many of the international political actors who informed my pieces on French and Russian politics (while also indulging my interest in the Napoleonic Wars that essentially birthed the modern state).

But mainly it’s because, rather than focus on the latest Trump tweet, Russian machination, or implosion of supposed Obamacare “repeal and replace,” I prefer to look for deeper factors and longer-term implications. At least – in a world of millions of journalists, bloggers and Twitter accounts – that’s where I hope I can make a contribution.

At the battlefield of Waterloo, on my recent trip to Brussels, where the fate of Europe was decided 200 years ago.

For instance, this week I tackled The Civil War Over Climate Change. To me, the key development here is not the “climate change” – Trump’s decision has no practical effect unless he’s re-elected in 2020 – it’s the “civil war”:

It’s hardly news that Americans are, metaphorically, living in two separate countries. But the reaction to President Donald Trump’s intention to take the United States out of the Paris climate accord moves us a step closer to making those two separate countries a reality….

Well over 100 of the nation’s mayors, as well as the governors of nine [now twelve] states, have announced that they intend not only to comply with the goals of the Paris agreement – which any jurisdiction (or, for that matter, individual) can do – but also to band together with scores of universities and even private corporations to form a new coalition of “non-national actors,” in the words of Michael Bloomberg, asking the United Nations to be treated on a par with, well, real countries on future climate progress.

This is remarkable both because of its claim to the treatment of subnational governments and businesses as equivalent and on a par with traditional nation-states and for its acceptance of the political break-up of even the strongest nation-state into its squabbling constituent parts. Both represent the future….

Those, of course, have been central themes of mine for the past several years. Trump’s old-fashioned “nationalism” will, in my view, ironically exacerbate the nation’s fraying:

Like similar creeping authoritarians elsewhere, Trump has steadily broadened his definition of “enemies of the people” from, first, ethnic minorities, to elite institutions like the media and court system, to now – mendaciously using the climate issue as his bludgeon – a probable majority of the country who, in Trump’s formulation, by definition (“Pittsburgh, not Paris”) favor foreign interests over America’s.

 

And meeting at the headquarters of the European Commission (executive branch of the European Union), where the fate of Europe is being decided today.

And that relates to another larger theme I’ve been pursuing: the growing cross-border global realignment, discussed last week in People Are the New Oil (the title comes from a line a Russian politician said to me recently). Drawing on the best-seller, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty,” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, the piece focused on the “distinction between extractive and inclusive nations. Economies built on extractive industries – like mining or petroleum – tend not to produce either inclusive economies or inclusive political systems”:

The entire planet is now consumed in a growing economic, political and perhaps military struggle between extractive and inclusive spheres. As I have frequently written here, these spheres essentially overlap with the question whether the societies, economies, communities and individuals concerned are “connected” to the New Economy or not: Those that are connected are booming economically – and also are hotbeds of liberalism and democracy, in the broadest senses of these terms. Those that are not, are not. The distinctions cut across national borders, creating new inter- (and intra-) national fault lines.

The reaction of the reactionaries now running our own country is (at least to pretend) to return to an extractive economy and, like Putin, ignore investing in that more valuable commodity, human capital – to the country’s long-term danger…. [A] new perspective that embraces both the connected future and those left behind by it is sorely lacking and badly needed.

That “new perspective,” called for at the end of both aforementioned pieces, is discussed in Is the Party System Over?. In a recent book, “Once Within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging since 1500,” Harvard historian Charles S. Maier notes that the distinction undermining our current parties is that between globalists and nationalists (or, Maier calls them, “territorialists”), of which there are both left- and right-wing versions. Uniting all three articles, then, and all three subjects, is this concern:

There’s one glaring gap perpetuating the current systemic instability: While it’s easy to identify globalists generally, and both territorialist Left and Right, there’s so far no “globalist Left” that pays more than mere lip-service to the equity and adaptation concerns of the territorialists. Until that emerges, we’re stuck with the current, crumbling party system.

Quick Links to my three articles:

– The Civil War Over Climate Change

– People Are The New Oil

– Is The Party System Over

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

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3
May

Global Disruption

I’m back at the writing – and back in the USA – after a trip to Paris to moderate two panels on the recent French elections: one on “A Whole New France and Whole New World – Politics in the Age of Populism,” with political consultants from France, the US, Russia and Turkey; the other, called “Under Fire: What Role Did the Media Play in Shaping Opinion?,” with leading French journalists.

While there, I was interviewed by the head of the French foreign correspondents’ association, Fabrice Pozzoli-Montenay, about my own take on France’s elections. This led to my piece published this morning in US News & World Report. Here’s the main argument:

Most commentators, both in France and here in the US, have taken the results as an indication that the global anti-global movement has crested…. I think reports of the demise of global disruption are premature.

What will remain true regardless of who becomes France’s next president, however, is that the two parties that have traditionally dominated French politics have imploded[:] only one-quarter of voters sided with the two major parties combined.

The success of both Macron and Le Pen – whose “party” is actually more like a “movement” resembling Trump’s – casts into doubt not simply the viability of the two long-time major parties but, even more so, of parties generally: Political parties very well might be headed the way of newspapers, TV networks, record manufacturers, hotels, cab companies and countless other “authorities” and industry incumbents that were undermined or rendered obsolete by new technologies that make it possible to unbundle services, democratize their provision, and allow consumers to assemble their own personal bundles. Just as people are increasingly their very own news sources – both as consumers and producers – so, pretty soon, might everyone be able more-or-less to form their own platform and political party, or at least a party of one, that can merge with or secede from others at will….

The US political system – with its “first past the post” allocation of offices – militates against party fragmentation, let alone such “micro-parties,” and in favor of a stable two-party system, in a way that Continental parliamentary systems do not. Otherwise, does anyone doubt that Americans already would be deserting both the Democratic and Republican parties in droves? But such grassroots unrest is something that both parties are already experiencing, with little idea of how to address. [I]t very well may be … that the aggregating and mediating function of parties is just another casualty of the atomizing and polarizing force of the new technologies on society as we have known it.

Scenes from Paris (clockwise): Moderating panel with French journalists, with French Senator Leila Aichi, at the French Senate, at Place de la Republique the morning of the poll.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump passed the 100-day milestone in his presidency. I was asked by Aspenia to comment on this from the perspective technology and the economy. The piece explores themes I’ve address repeatedly in the past year or so concerning the rising global disenchantment with the kinds of economic and social disruptions caused by the new digital economy – disenchantment that has led to the rise of Trump, Le Pen and other right-wing populist/nationalist politicians worldwide. But I believe this is only the opening phase of a larger political realignment:

As it turns out, the information industry is just as extractive as prior economies: In an interesting little book, Platform Capitalism, the British Marxist economist Nick Srnicek observes that data turn out to be simply another natural resource that our newer technologies have figured out how to extract, and how to extract value from, not unlike mining, oil drilling or agriculture before them. Meanwhile, like manufacturing, these IT industries are focused on how best to increase per-worker productivity and substitute capital for labor whenever possible. In a few years’ time, the jobs being lost to technology will be not only those of former blue-collar manufacturing workers – they also will include those of many who now consider themselves riding the crest of the New Economy wave, from Uber drivers replaced by self-driving cars to radiologists replaced by AI to composers and authors replaced by hit-producing bots. Many current Hillary voters will be joining the disgruntled Bernie and Trump supporters who see the Titans of Information as their threat.

Meanwhile, these Titans, despite their seemingly liberal politics, are proving little different from other Titans of Industry. They’re already finding common ground with the traditionally Republican wings of the Republican Congress and Trump Administration: They recently joined to repeal Obama-era prohibitions on reselling individuals’ online search histories – and just days ago the Administration unveiled its plan to eliminate Obama’s “net neutrality” rules, so that big players can further dominate the Internet. In the words of that noted political philosopher Peter Townsend: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Both the Disruption, and the Resistance, are just beginning.

You can read the full pieces here:

– Macron and Le Pen’s success in France casts doubt on political parties

– Thus Donald Trump joined the global conflict on technology

As always, I welcome your comments below!

 

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21
Mar

The Policy Debate We Need

A project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, under the direction of noted public-sector leader Stephen Goldsmith, has compiled what it regards as the 30 best reports on “Operational Excellence in Government” – and my firm, Public Works, is the author or co-author of three of these. Harvard cited our government-wide efficiency and management work in Iowa, Colorado, and Louisiana. This confirms what we’ve always said: Although we’re a small firm, we can match our record in this area against any of the largest consultancies in the world.

Meanwhile, in Washington the Trump Administration has unveiled plans to down-size government in a manner very different from how we pursue our efficiency and streamlining work. It’s the difference between hiring a surgeon to cure your ills – or a guy with a chain saw and hockey mask.

I wrote about this larger “hollowing out” of government at which the Trump Administration aims in The Hollow Men in U.S. News & World Report:

The Americas Bannon and Trump envision are depressing, but not totalitarian: One is illiberal but not necessarily authoritarian, the other authoritarian but not necessarily illiberal. Both lead to a society embodying not so much the banality of evil as the evil of banality. And where they overlap is not the creation of a fascist state, but rather the opposite: The hollowing out of the state as a viable institution. And, in that, they represent not a radical departure from the modern trajectory of the U.S. (and most other countries today) but an acceleration of it.

“All of this should be concerning,” I concluded, “but, while liberals have been warning not to ‘normalize’ Trump for the last year, the mistake is to ‘abnormalize’ him.” I elaborated on this theme in my next piece, Parallel Universe of Trump-World: “Right now, the opposition is focused on furious assaults against the very tar babies that keep Trump’s supporters in his column; such attacks will do nothing to weaken his grip on his alternative universe,” I argued.

I simply don’t agree that becoming your enemy is how to defeat him – a sentiment liberals argued vehemently in opposition to Bush-era depredations of civil liberties in the “War on Terror” but now deride as comic-book morality in the Age of Trump. How quickly our values have collapsed into not opposition, but conformance, to Trump’s.

So how should we respond to the pathologies of the Trump Administration? By focusing on policy, of course:

The real question is, What will create economic growth for the huge numbers of Americans being left behind? What will salvage the communities of an alternative universe being ground under by the advance of what is, to them, an alien culture and destructive economy?…

You really want to save truth, justice and the American Way? Stop seeing every Trump outrage as a cause for, well, outrage: Stop “ab-normalizing” him. Embrace the pathetic reality: He is a politician like any other, to be judged by his vacuous policies that fail even his supporters. Offer real policy alternatives that will protect the families of those who wrongly believe he is their hope. Start doing that, reality will take care of itself.

And that takes us to this week’s policy-oriented post – on the appallingly bad, long-awaited Republican alternative to Obamacare:

[T]he Republican health care bill concerns itself mainly with stripping millions of their coverage, recreating those halcyon health care days of the Bush years for most, and providing massive subsidies to – get this – the wealthiest. That ultimately makes plain the real Republican philosophy of government.

There are three basic conceptions of government’s role in human affairs. Some believe it is properly a force for collective good. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the vision liberals propound today.

Others believe – and this is, of course, a deep strand in American political thought – that while government might indeed be used for good as well as ill, in practice it tends to reflect what Francis Fukayama has called the “stationary bandit” theory of the state: It is a coercive force for extraction and exploitation of the many by the few, and thus to be constrained wherever possible. And then there are those who do the extraction and exploitation and recognize government as the best institution for achieving that.

Republicans love to talk like they fall into the second category. The chief virtue of this health care bill is that it makes transparent that they actually comprise the third.

You can read the whole analysis, The GOP’s Health Care Shock, here.

Easy links in this update:

30 best reports on “Operational Excellence in Government

U.S. News & World Report: The Hollow Men and Parallel Universe of Trump-World

The GOP’s Health Care Shock

As always, I welcome your comments below!

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10
Feb

Demagoguery and Democracy

It’s hard to believe we’re only three weeks into the Trump Administration. In that time, I’ve written three articles assessing how we got here and where we’re going; I’ll summarize the thrust here, but I hope you’ll follow the links to the articles and give them a read in the original to get the full argument. (That also helps my “metrics” and keeps my editors happy!)

On Inauguration Day, I published a piece originating in a conversation a few days earlier with my friend, Jimmy Cauley. Jimmy was the campaign manager for an obscure state legislator in Illinois who was elected to the US Senate in 2004, named Barrack Obama. Jimmy has been saying for a long time a lot of the same things for which J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, has been celebrated in the last year (except Jimmy’s a whole lot funnier). The conversation reminded me of a piece I’d written when Obama was elected president; I’ve raised similar warnings since about Democrats’ failure to address the concerns of white working class Americans. But I was surprised, when I went back and reread my 2008 diatribe, by the Republican response that year that completely foreshadowed the Trump message “by redefining who has been in charge”:

It really hasn’t been George Bush, the largely Republican Congresses, or the 7-2 Republican majority on the Supreme Court – it’s been a national elite of “cosmopolitan” types (you know, highly-educated, diverse, globally mobile)….

Of course, resentment of elites has a long history in America.   What has changed, however, is that those who might have felt “bitter” about being left behind by the new economy in prior ages – Jacksonian Era frontiersmen, Southern planters and Western ranchers, underpaid workers in Pennsylvania steel mills or West Virginia coal mines – all voted Democratic, and the Democratic Party was unrepentantly proud to speak for them. Today, the Democratic Party increasingly consists of the well-educated, the worldly, the owners of the keys to the economy of the future – and it is at risk of losing interest in helping those it sees as “bitter,” unfathomably ungrateful, and not just inferior but frightening.

You can read the full discussion in The More Things Change.

Many fear a fascist takeover driven by such demagogic reaction. In Make America Hollow, I argue that “[t]he Americas Bannon and Trump envision are depressing, but not totalitarian: One is illiberal but not necessarily authoritarian, the other authoritarian but not necessarily illiberal. Both lead to a society embodying not so much the banality of evil as the evil of banality.”

Bannon’s conformism is not that of Stalin’s Russia, but of the roughly-contemporary Peyton Place; his vision of America is one – socially, economically, politically, religiously – out of an idealized 1950s…. Matt Bai paints a similarly dispiriting picture in a recent piece asserting that Trump – like other contemporary demagogues – is less Orwell’s 1984, with its “vision of fascist repression,” and more Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, “with [its] trivial, substanceless society.”

Where Trump and Bannon come together “is not the creation of a fascist state, but rather the opposite: The hollowing out of the state as a viable institution.” That, of course, is a subject I write about frequently. Please read the whole piece for more.

Like all demagoguery, much of Trumpism is driven by misrepresentation. Rather predictably, President Trump has chosen a Supreme Court nominee who claims to be guided by the intent of the Framers; as the apparently-rare liberal who actually agrees with conservatives that the Constitution must be “strictly construed” according to “the intent of the Framers,” I’ve got news for them: That doesn’t mean what they think it means.

[T]he Constitution has been amended many times – sometimes in fashions that dramatically changed its meaning. For all intents and purposes, the post-Civil War 14th Amendment represents a new Constitution, fundamentally altering the balance of power between the states and the federal government. It’s debatable that all those 18th-Century guys in white wigs, whom self-described patriots today like to single out, believed in a largely denuded federal government – the motive for many, like Alexander Hamilton, in creating the Constitution was precisely the opposite – but the 19th-Century Framers of the 14th Amendment clearly did not.

You can read the full discussion at A Constitutional Reality Check.

Easy links in this update:

– The More Things Change

– Make America Hollow

– A Constitutional Reality Check

As always, I welcome your comments below!

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27
Jan

Taking a Holistic Approach: Our New Education Practice

 

One of the many flashpoints emerging in the early days of the Trump Administration is the commitment of President Trump and his education secretary-designate Betsy deVos to the privatization of education in this country – and then the defunding of education, and most forms of human capital investment, completely.

This is an issue that I and my terrific colleagues at Public Works have been involved with for years. We decided last year to build one of the top education policy consultancies in America. In 2017, this is shaping up to be even more important. In this update, I’d like to let you know about our approach to education – including stressing creativity over doctrinaire approaches of any kind.

We undertook three major education projects in 2016. We spent the bulk of the year enmeshed in two distinct performance reviews of the state of Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) and the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education/Alaska Student Loan Corporation (ACPE).  The unique significance and sensitivity of education issues in Alaska demanded a high degree of oversight; you can read our full DEED report here. ACPE is the state entity for central planning for higher education and financial aid programs; our ACPE report is available here.

We also were retained by the Eagle County (Colorado) Department of Human Services and the Eagle County School District to develop an Early Childhood System Roadmap to identify principles and best practices essential to a comprehensive early childhood system, and strategies for building such a system in Eagle County. The report is available here.

And 2017 is off to a fast start: We just completed a comprehensive performance review of the Dalhart (Texas) Independent School District for the Texas Legislative Budget Board. That report hasn’t been publicly released yet – but the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, DC, did release this month a report I wrote on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Empowerment Zone Partnership – an attempt to create within the public schools the conditions that make charter schools successful, without the poisonous politics: It’s very close to the model Public Works has developed for our clients and advocated around the country for years. You can read it here.

The objective of our education practice is to help guide human capital investment so that all Americans, of every age, can receive world-class education and training enabling them to achieve their full potential. We’re combining expertise throughout the entire educational “pipeline” – from early childhood to K-12 through post-secondary and higher education, on to the adult workforce system – and building bridges between them.

We’ve helped multiple states construct P-20 systems, uniting everything from early childhood education through post-secondary training in governance, coordination, policy and substance. We’ve designed model early childhood programs for localities and national think tanks – and led the restructuring of adult workforce systems in a dozen states, bringing together all segments (PK-12, community colleges, and universities) in the public education system. In short, we’re taking a holistic approach to education.

We also take a holistic approach to effecting meaningful change, working on education policy-making at the highest levels of states governments, but also with principals and superintendents on improving district and building leadership – and community engagement. We’ve put together a team of about two dozen education consultants, with a core team that has some of my favorite people:

  • JoAnn Cox education experience includes teaching, district administration, and leadership at a state Department of Education, and then headed up the PK-12 Education practice at MGT of America. Dr. Cox has earned a national reputation for improving outcomes and generating savings.
  • Laura Dukess was Director of Professional Development the Office of School Leadership of the New York City Department of Education, worked at New Visions for Public Schools, and was a law school classmate of mine.
  • Pamela Kondé, is an expert in policy analysis, government relations and legal advocacy, with a focus on parental engagement, community building, and strategic grassroots organizing. She also teaches and runs after-school programs and a summer camp for creative writing. Previously worked with the National League of Cities and on Capitol Hill.
  • Marybeth Schubert was the founding executive director of the Advanced Programs Initiative, a New Mexico-wide foundation dedicated to advancing public education through partnership with public school districts, and previously was my firm’s southwest director.
  • Ester Smith has more than 30 years of experience in the design, implementation and management of education evaluations. She has conducted program evaluations and management and performance reviews in school districts in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
  • Ken Weil is a principal at Social Impact Solutions, focusing on social impact bonds, pay for success contracts, and other new revenue paradigms for early childhood, K-12, and higher education. He previously served as regional Executive Director of College Summit, a national leader in increasing college enrollment and persistence for low-income students.

If your state or city needs intelligent new approaches to helping its schools, universities and workforce-preparation systems work better, we would love to hear from you. There’s really no more important issue in the years ahead if you truly want to keep America great.

 

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12
Jan

The Torch Passes

Eric_Schnurer-Obama-Trump

 

This week saw President Barack Obama’s formal farewell – and further revelations about what Vladimir Putin’s relationship with Donald Trump portends for the future.

In A Legacy of Hope but Modest Change, published in the Aspen Institute’s Aspenia Online, I tried to provide a balanced assessment of Obama’s tenure, focusing on, in my view, the “two defining accomplishments of Obama’s presidency,” his response to the financial crisis of 2008, and Obamacare.

In the stimulus, as in everything to follow, Obama was intelligent yet uninspired. Most economists, and certainly those amongst Obama’s own advisors, argued for an even larger stimulus than the one he ultimately embraced; the “small-c conservative” argument – advocating caution because of political difficulties – prevailed with him then, as it did often thereafter.

But Obama also “left the details of the stimulus to Congress – which promptly loaded it up with pork-barrel spending,” which “debased the entire concept to the public, reduced its economic efficacy, and in fact resulted in a lot of waste. It also meant that, despite the administration’s own mantra of not wasting a crisis as a chance to accomplish major change, the stimulus package became merely a huge but uninteresting example of textbook Keynesian economics in action rather than a truly transformative event.”

Most crucially, the Great Recession was not simply the bursting of a speculative bubble: It represented a “phase transition” from the booming late-20th century economy to the new economy of the 21st century, which will eliminate large numbers of existing occupations and life-paths – like the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy, except at about ten times the speed. … Obama’s stimulus plan reflected his understanding of the importance of this new economy, but his obliviousness to the fact that it was not an unalloyed good, in that half the country essentially would be obsolesced by it in their own lifetimes, caught between a recovery that would not reach them and a future that would not include them. The foundations for the coming, deepening division – and the politics of 2016 – had been laid.

A similar pattern followed with Obamacare:

[T]he main problem with Obama’s push was that it took his eye off the only ball that should have mattered at that point – the negligible economic recovery….  Ultimately, as with the stimulus, Obama did not care as much about the details as about making the history books. But the massive reform gave fodder to Middle Americans who believed they were being asked to pay for Obama’s (and liberals’) greater interest in the poor.  Again, the battle lines of 2016 were already forming.

So, what comes next? “The recent news sounds basically like a technologically-updated version of a Cold War-era political pulp thriller,” I wrote in Putin’s War on Information in US News: “The evil Ruskies undertake espionage and disinformation efforts to create a chaotic American election, spend years cultivating a useful stooge easily manipulated by flattery, greed and sex to help spread divisive views about US foreign policy, and then along the way suddenly realize they actually might get him elected president. All of this, however, concerning as it is, is neither novel – unless it turns out that Trump was actually colluding with Russia all last year – nor, even then, the real threat.” So what is the real threat? Putin’s desire

to return to a world predating the New Economy with its increasingly-liberal political norms and social mores … (the unconfirmed private intelligence reports underlying the latest Trump revelations assert that Russia’s “TRUMP operation should be seen in terms of PUTIN’s desire to return to Nineteenth Century ‘Great Power’ politics anchored upon countries’ interests rather than the ideals-based international order established after World War Two”)….

Putin has marketed his regime as the defender of traditional social values (including religious fundamentalism and vehement opposition to homosexuality), traditional national prerogatives, and traditional (heavy) industrial economies – more-or-less a return to the Good Old Days of the 1950s. … Does this sound familiar? Of course it does.

What Putin has realized, more than anyone else, is that this hated New Economy rests entirely on the ubiquity of information, and that is its point of weakness. Putin’s war on information – and, unfortunately, it’s not his alone – is a wager, like many before, that there’s a thin line between liberalism and chaos. Those are the stakes at issue here.

You can read the full analysis by clicking on the article titles above. Meanwhile, buckle your seatbelts.

As usual, I welcome you comments below!

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27
Dec

A Season of Caring

Charles-Adler-Talkshow

As the turbulent year 2016 winds down, I’ve bookended the holidays with two pieces about caring. The first, The Age of “Who Cares?”, appeared in US News & World Report two weeks ago and was featured in my last update. The following day, I received an invitation from a Canadian talk show, to discuss it.

You can listen to the whole interview on your computer or smart phone, but here are some highlights:

“Walls are not going to keep the world’s problems out of the United States because the problems are bigger than that and we live in a world that’s largely interconnected now. We don’t have the luxury of not caring about what goes in the Middle East – or any other country, for that matter.”

“At the moment, the focus has clearly shifted to self-centeredness more than a larger vision. And I think that can be destructive to our lives individually and to the society as a whole.”

“I think everybody involved on both sides of this election have paid inadequate due to the needs and problems of other people in this country. It’s not just Aleppo, it’s not just Trump people, it’s not just this election – we’re living at a time of great, great change, and I think it’s leading a lot of people to feel insecure on all sides, and to focus on themselves as a result. And I think that’s understandable. But it’s not good.”

In my new piece for Christmas in US News, So Much You Can Do, I tried to suggest what some responses to these challenges. Please click the link to read the full piece (my editors keep track of that sort of thing!), but here’s the gist:

Instead of crying by the riverbank at the dismantlement of Obamacare, the block-granting of Medicaid, and the defenestration of Social Security and Medicare, or spending the next four years idly proposing a return to similar New Deal and Great Society programs in some imagined future, we can start using [new] technologies to build virtual communities – the real future – that do choose to cross-subsidize health care, secure retirements and educational opportunity for those who need them, and to reap the benefits.

But there are countless other ways on an individual basis to stand against the incoming tide. There are children who need mentoring – and adults who do, too. There are immigrants who need welcoming, and values like free speech that need exercising. There are small acts anyone can undertake every day that make a small difference, but if repeated by the rest of us would make a large difference – in, say, wasting less energy or consuming less needless packaging or paying slightly more to support better working conditions. You can find one way each day to check your self-interest and act with kindness toward another. You could easily fill your day with things that will make a difference in ways that, without you, will go in the opposite direction under the Trump Administration.

You can decry that there’s so little you can do. Or, as you gather with loved ones over this holiday period, and pass by countless strangers in the streets, you can recognize that, in fact, there’s so much more you can do than there is possibly time for.

I’m looking forward to putting a dent in that in 2017. I’ve got in the works:

Our new-and-improved education consulting practice. We recently completed two studies in Alaska, are wrapping up another in Texas, and my whitepaper on school innovations in Massachusetts will be published in the new year.

A new social venture to accomplish some of what’s discussed above. Alumni of the University of Chicago’s business school have volunteered to help work out the financing and technology details, so I hope to “go live” with this venture in late 2017.

Expanded adventures in academia – including a series of forums and podcasts from the University of Chicago on “The Future of …,” flowing from my course there, “The Future of Government”; a new course this winter at Union Theological Seminary in New York on the deeper drivers of right and wrong –from biology to psychology to game theory – and what we can do about them; and a new annual conference tying together all the foregoing at Brown University, to be announced early in the year.

I’ll be giving you details in further updates in the coming weeks. But until then, have a Happy 2017, filled with caring!

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Happy holidays from our family to yours.

 

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19
Dec

Charles Adler Tonight

Charles Adler Tonight Eric Schnurer

My piece in US News & World Report last week, The Age of “Who Cares?”, attracted the attention of a Canadian talk show, Charles Adler Tonight, which invited me on to discuss the article.  In the course of a 15-minute interview, I talked with host Charles Adler about Syria, Donald Trump, racial animosity, international responsibility, and how they’re all interrelated:

“We’re quite fortunate in the US, and we’re quite fortunate in most of the western world, compared to huge swaths of humanity today.  It’s just, things aren’t quite as good in a lot of ways as most of us would like it to be, and they’re certainly nowhere near as good for a large segment of the population in this country as they could be and should.  I think they rightly feel that a lot of people don’t care about their problems, and it’s hard to get exercised about other people’s problems in that kind of environment.”

You can listen to the whole interview on your computer or smart phone.

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14
Dec

On Earth, Good Will to All (?)

earthrise-2

 

Every year around the holidays, I try to write a piece or two summing up where our country and the world stand. Often, these pieces have tackled moral issues, as befits the season.

In this week’s US News piece, “The Age of ‘Who Cares?’”, I address my concern that people are caring less about anyone or anything but themselves:

It’s ironic that, as we come upon the holiday season, a time at which traditionally we are thankful for what’s been given to us, contemplative about how we might give to others, and reflective upon how we might do even better in the coming year, people across America, if not everywhere, seem increasingly focused only on what’s in it for themselves.

… [W]e’re not simply in the midst of a revolt against some form of social organization larger than, or transcending, the nation-state: We’re witnessing a rejection of anything larger than, or transcending, the self…. Thus, we sit in comfort as a nation currently enjoying sole-superpower status, in the midst of one of the longest (if admittedly unspectacular) economic expansions on record, and bemoan our poor lot while ignoring the massacre of innocent Syrians even as we bar our doors to them. This Christmas, there’s no room at the inn.

… But a world where no-one cares about anything other than themselves is one that few survive. The emerging Trump Administration appears to be the perfect embodiment of this zeitgeist.  Even more so than its overwhelmingly elite, billionaire, insider, traditional Republican, white, male cast, its unifying feature appears to be – as James Hohmann observes in today’s Washington Post Daily 202 – its widespread devotion to the philosophy of Ayn Rand: “The fact that all of these men … are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing. They will now run our government”.

But who cares?

Last week, in “Trump’s America Is Already Selling,” I wrote about President-elect Donald Trump’s business interests as representative of what I’ve long argued is the direction the world’s headed:

Welcome to the United States of Trump: Real estate and branding. Run for profit, just like a business. Global in scope, and borders are no constraint. Income redistribution, human investment, job creation? Not so much. In short, this is exactly the direction the world was headed before; the result will be to speed it up, not reverse it.

Most people find that observation as depressing as this week’s column on rising selfishness. I don’t – I think this presents opportunities for new approaches:

Over the next decade or so, governments will increasingly compete with each other to market their services and brand themselves. It’s only natural that private companies will begin offering similar services, as well – in fact, in areas from national security to consular services to currency to dispute resolution to education and beyond, they already do. When governments like Trump’s start slashing their involvement in public protection, health, human services and social coordination (what we call regulation when the government does it), and countless other public goods, private and other new kinds of entities will start figuring out ways to offer such things themselves.

That’s, in fact, what I plan to spend a good part of 2017 working on.

Finally, the world this week lost two outstanding public servants I had the honor and privilege to work with and call “friend”: Charlie Reed was chief of staff to Florida Governor Bob Graham, where I met him in my first job after college, writing Graham’s speeches; Charlie went on to become one of the country’s top higher-ed leaders, serving as chancellor of both the Florida and California state university systems. John Glenn, of course, was both the first American to orbit the earth and oldest person in space, as well as a US Senator and presidential candidate. I had the honor of writing speeches for him in the latter two capacities. In my view, John’s greatest accomplishment of all was to author and push through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act: We can thank him for the fact that, imperfect as it is, the world’s still here.

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