By Dr. Gabrielle Duebendorfer
I ended part two of this series of articles with the suggestion of being willing to listen to each other’s needs and concerns in an open discussion and treat everyone with a sense of humanity. So if we look closer at the “elite” having ignored the needs of blue-collar workers we see that this perception is grounded in truth.
An article on Globalization and Unemployment in Foreign Affairs explains that in the U.S., while overall GDP income has increased, less educated workers in manufacturing jobs have faced more unemployment and stagnant incomes. The reasons for this are very complex and cannot be simplified with just blaming outsourcing of jobs or loss of jobs due to technology. However, considering that China and India make up 40% of the world’s population with rising economies, it is a simple fact that globalization has caused a permanent, irreversible change on U.S. and world economy.
When Germany’s tradable work sector came under competitive threat, German labor, business, and government worked together to protect employment at the expense of a rapid increase in overall income. As a result the ratio of the average income of the top 20% of population to the bottom 20% is 4 to 1 compared to 8 to 1 in the U.S.
This U.S income inequality is higher than in most other industrial countries and is rising. What might account for that? The article suggests that companies’ private interest, i.e. profit, has trumped the public’s interest, i.e. employment. This is where in my opinion the U.S. “elite” has failed the public. There has not been a fundamental goal of creating rewarding employment opportunities for all Americans in the face of unavoidable global change.
Changing that, again, is a very complex issue and I would like to focus on the aspect of education here, as future job growth will depend on the educational level of U.S. workers. I find this quote from the Foreign Affairs article very insightful and important: “A lack of commitment to education in families and in communities makes the entire field of education seem unattractive, demoralizing dedicated teachers and turning off talented students from teaching. That, in turn, reduces the incentives of communities to value the primacy of education.”
The above-described voters’ resentment against U.S. intelligentsia might count for this lack of commitment to education. However, if one takes time to study the economic situation, it becomes obvious that increased educational levels of workers are necessary for the U.S. to stay competitive and keep jobs here. As we see in Germany, though, this needs to be coupled with the promise of rewarding employment as a necessary incentive. In order to achieve that, labor, business, and government have to work together instead of taking hands off and trusting that businesses will look beyond their own pocket book.
In conclusion, I understand now the resentment against the “elite” to be rooted in basic economic injustice as a result of unavoidable global changes that can be remedied with concerted efforts. Putting the blame on U.S. intelligentsia as a disenfranchising elite takes away commitment from efforts to couple education with rewarding employment. Falling prey to emotional uproar about perceived injustices due to an “entrenched, closed, arrogant group that sees fit to tell people what to say and think” distracts from sifting facts from fiction and actually addressing the situation in a constructive way. I, as an educated individual, do not feel like I am a target of this wide-spread resentment against the elite anymore.
I want to close with a description of news media in Germany, where I spent the good part of last year. The main TV stations there are public and I watched a good number of debates where participants presented both sides of a topic in an open discussion. The news hours similarly presented news in a more neutral tone compared to U.S. TV. Politicians regularly participated in public discussions like this. Facts are still difficult to sieve out even under such circumstances but at least one can form an opinion based on arguments from both sides.
Having grown up in post war Germany in the ‘60s and ‘70s I was raised to be acutely aware of being swayed by emotions rather than facts, and to speak up at perceived injustices. Throwing out political correctness and “dishonest” reporters for the sake of keeping everything nice and pretty is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
A healthy democracy needs freedom for everyone to speak, respect for the humanity for others, freedom for reporters to sift out fact from fiction, and responsibility for everyone to not react emotionally – but most of all it needs the willingness to listen to each other and to respond accordingly.
Dr. Gabrielle Duebendorfer practices naturopathic medicine in Sandpoint Idaho and has a keen interest in global and political issues.