In his speech after the Iowa Caucuses last night, Mitt Romney argued that America needs to return to being a meritocracy. However, he astutely avoided using the word “meritocracy”, instead he danced around it, saying “the right course for America is to remain a merit society”. It was as if the word was too big, as if he was concerned that people might not understand him.
Romney’s diction illuminated how he views the electorate. He sees them as uneducated, dumb, or simple. In any case, he believes Americans have a small vocabulary. This shouldn’t be too surprising, politicians have been pandering to the lowest common denominator for years.
What’s striking is the juxtaposition of what he’s saying and how he’s saying it. He is at once saying the best and brightest need to raise to the top, and that you’re not it. He is, in essence, telling the electorate that his policies are going to work against their best interest.
It is easy to understand the draw of a meritocracy. Everyone thinks they’re better than average and will raise to the top if society is based on merit. But, by definition, not everybody can be better than average. It is this disconnect, this misunderstanding of ourselves, that Mitt Romney is praying on.
A meritocracy sounds inherently fair, except when it isn’t. A meritocracy is especially vicious to the common man when merit is measured by wealth and political connections. A meritocracy championed by those in power will use a measuring stick designed to keep power in the hands of the powerful. We’ve seen such a type of meritocracy in the banking industry over the past decade, and we’ve seen it in the history books time and time again. Instead of enabling social mobility through skill, education and hard work, such a system retards social mobility.
Mitt Romney is upholding the morality of a “merit society” to convince the electorate to support his campaign, while at the same time indicating that they won’t benefit from such a society. He is able to do this because the electorate doesn’t know itself and is therefore unable to win the fight between the people and the powerful.
If the nascent revolutionaries in Egypt are successful in finding ways in which a movement can leverage social media to remain broad-based, diffused and participatory, they will truly help launch a new era beyond their already remarkable achievements. Such a possibility, however, requires a clear understanding of how networks operate and an explicit aversion to naïve or hopeful assumptions about how structures which allow for horizontal congregation will necessarily facilitate a future that is non-hierarchical, horizontal and participatory. Just like the Egyptian revolution was facilitated by digital media but succeeded through the bravery, sacrifice, intelligence and persistence of its people, ensuring a participatory future can only come through hard work as well as the diligent application of thoughtful principles to these new tools and beyond.
It has become dogma that inflation is harmful to an economy. Inflation weakens the buying power of the dollar compared to other currencies and it reduces the value of cash savings. Conversely, inflation increases the competitiveness of exports and reduces the burden of existing debt. Inflation, like monetary and fiscal policy more broadly, is a tool that can be used and adjusted to improve the strength of the economy. Inflation does not necessarily hurt an economy, unchecked and excessive inflation hurts an economy, but a moderate amount of inflation at the right time can greatly help an economy. This is such a time for America.
Robust inflation would help the United States in three ways: First, it would increase the competitiveness of our exports in foreign markets; second, it would reduce both our private and our public debt burden; and third, it would stimulate spending. Read more…
This is the second of a week-long series of posts looking at the themes President Obama brought up during his second State of the Union address. This series aims to look at what the President did right and where he still needs some improvement.
Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”
We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.
Over the past thirty years, America has been spending its infrastructure. Our roads are deteriorating, levies have broken, and our electricity system has experienced cascading failures. In our efforts to remove bloat and waste from government, we have instead prevented it from maintaining the public goods our parents and grandparents worked and paid taxes to create.
An infrastructure repair and modernization plan is sorely needed at all levels of government. The greatest expansion of America’s infrastructure in history happened during the Great Depression because of the New Deal. Today, we are facing an economy in a similar state as the 1930s. Unemployment is rampant and job growth is non-existent. A government program to put Americans back to work and simultaneously rebuild our infrastructure is the best thing the Obama Administration could do.
Unfortunately, that won’t happen. President Obama has been running away from the label of socialist since his campaign began. He is, quite simply, a centrist president who would not dream of such an expansion of the government into the economy. He would prefer to give large hand-outs to the biggest banks in order to goose their profits and get the stock market up, since that’s the moderate course of action.
Admittedly, the Obama Administration has put a lot of money into the economy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and worked to improve our transportation with huge investments in high-speed rail. But these investments are either too small or won’t employ people until far in the future.
President Obama is right to talk about the poor shape of our infrastructure and how it needs to be improved. His talk needs to be followed up with action. Infrastructure is one of the best investments government can make in the future.
This is the first of a week-long series of posts looking at the themes President Obama brought up during his second State of the Union address. This series aims to look at what the President did right and where he still needs some improvement.
We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.
But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.
James Carville popularized the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid,” during President Clinton’s run for the presidency in 1992, and President Obama took that saying to heart for his second State of the Union address. Much of what he addressed was how America can right its economic future and continue the growth it had seen during much of Clinton’s presidency. It’s that type of growth that has become the foundation of the American economy, literally mortgaging future growth for today’s consumption. Unfortunately, that type of growth hasn’t sustained itself over the past decade.
My orthogonal take is that the whole thing happened because there was not enough technological innovation. It was not really the fault of the borrowers or the lenders; the problem was that everybody had tremendous expectations that the country was going to be a much wealthier place in 2010 than it was in 1995, and in fact there’s been a lot less progress.
President Obama, in his State of the Union, continues this unrealistic expectation when he pulls from America’s greatest accomplishments and says those are routinely achievable to continue moving us forward. Yes, we need to strive for greatness, but we also need to prepare for the mundane. We need an economic system that is not reliant upon outsized returns to keep us moving forward, but can use those outsized returns when we win that windfall.
The economy is rightfully important, and we need to strive for improved efficiency and new technologies. But expecting that efficiency and technological innovation for our economy to continue to function is a sure recipe for future default.
In posts later this week, I’ll take a look at some of the positive steps President Obama brought up in order to help us reach the growth our economy currently requires. Improved infrastructure, education and new clean technologies are all critical, but we can’t tie ourselves to their success for our continued solvency.
Tonight is President Obama’s second State of the Union address before Congress. The White House has been promoting their enhanced State of the Union website where you’ll be able to watch what the President’s address while also getting the benefit of additional supporting material that will help illustrate the points he makes.
The Obama White House has embraced participant media more than any other presidency before. They have made an effort to create fully featured websites many of the issues the White House has been focused on, starting with the Bush-Obama transition website through to the economic recovery, from addressing crises like the BP Gulf Oil Disaster to major policy initiatives like Health Care. Each of these websites, and WhiteHouse.gov itself, have featured blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and YouTube channels.
The problem is, despite the White House working hard to be active in new media, they haven’t fully comprehended the participatory part of participatory media. Getting a look inside the real West Wing is great, but the staffers there are still thinking of the internet as a broadcast medium where they say what they wish without feedback or a give and take. They have not made their politics a conversation.
There has been some discussion of changing this policy slightly, but the biggest problem is that the White House gets all these great ideas from people that don’t get implemented. In fact, there is too much noise and not enough signal being received by the White House. To make participatory media work on such a large scale, there needs to be a better way for people to organize themselves in order to raise their voices above the level of the constant din.