“... with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times,” — Thomas Jefferson
Our world has changed and so must our institutions. Globalization and technology have disrupted our way of life. The institutions we created to make our society work for a different era are now failing us, including our economy, schools and health care, among others. And rather than doing what past generations have done who were patriotic, eager to sacrifice and work together for the common good, we are more self-absorbed and less empathetic. We find ourselves more divided, fearful and looking for scapegoats to blame for our problems.
We now have a disappearing middle class where 95 percent of the wealth is held by one percent. We used to believe there was a connection between productivity, the economy and job growth, but no longer true. The link between rising productivity, growing jobs and higher living standards has de-coupled, according to MIT Center for Digital Business professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's new book, "Race Against The Machine." We now have more productivity and fewer jobs.
Many see the solution to the decline of jobs and disparity in the median income of Americans as being due to lack of education; however, businesses are buying more machines, using more technology and hiring fewer workers. Machines and computers are now replacing humans in many mid-skilled level jobs, including some requiring a college education. The jobs left for humans are those that require innovation and creativity, problem solving, sensitivity, working with others and communication, according to the professors.
We forget institutions resist change, die of old age and are in need of periodic renewal. Now we are in the midst of another historic technological revolution that has disrupted our lives dramatically. The problems we face in our economy are structural that require structural solutions. We are all strangers to this new world and must pull together as other generations have done to forge new opportunities for all of us, if we are to thrive as a society.
We no longer have the luxury of doing more of the same or listening to nay-saying opportunistic politicians who exploit our fears and offer no solutions. They blame big government, the poor, immigrants, welfare, and fail to see how the world has changed and the need for renewing our institutions for today’s conditions. Then there are those who benefit from the status quo, the “stakeholders,” who have hijacked politicians, and tell them we have the best schools and the best health care in the world, yet other nations are moving ahead of us.
The process of institutional renewal starts by seeing that our policymakers involve citizens instead of the usual “stakeholders.” Policymakers must examine how the world has changed, identify the forces affecting change, how the problems have changed, and how the mission of the institution should be renewed to solve current problems. It’s a new world in which those raised after 1985 with the World Wide Web can see the world with different lenses than our generation. They, along with people from diverse backgrounds, should be involved in the renewal of our institutions. They will give new life to our institutions.
It seems we have resigned ourselves that “good enough” is ok. That’s not how America was founded. It was built by generations who had the confidence that by working together they could mold their destiny. We should do no less.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.