Tag Archives: richard nixon

The Dark Side of Rapid Change

Global trade and investment have been great engines of progress for much of the world. Over the past two decades, poorer countries reduced the gap between themselves and their richer counterparts for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, in no small part because of the opportunities opened by global trade. Technology has the same transformative potential in industries as varied as energy, health care, transportation and education. Inventions that are imminent or already here could transform the lives of billions of people for the better.

Yet, as we see in the 2016 U.S. election campaign, and as we have seen in Europe and elsewhere, rapid change has a dark side. If too many people are unable to adapt quickly and successfully to these changes, they will push back – blaming trade or immigrants or the elites – and demand a reversion to a simpler time.

The task of governments is to help people manage these transformations so that they benefit many and do as little harm as possible. In the U.S., governments mostly failed at that task during the era of globalization; if the full benefits of the coming technologies are to be enjoyed, governments will have to do much better this time around.

See also: ‘Interactive Finance’: Meshing with Google  

The competitive pressures created by globalization should have been no surprise. About 45 years ago, President Richard Nixon’s top international economic adviser, Pete Peterson, warned him that rising competition from Japan and Germany, with much more on the way, “poses adjustment policy which simply cannot be ignored.”

Americans have unquestionably gained by the lower prices and higher quality that import competition enabled. Apple iPhones and the latest Boeing jets are the result of the collective input of tens of thousands of collaborators in dozens of countries around the world. But many lost well-paid manufacturing jobs to import competition or outsourcing, and the U.S. government has made little effort to mitigate those costs, even in worker retraining.

President John F. Kennedy promised in 1962 that the government would help American workers who lost out to trade competition as the U.S. lowered its barriers to imports. “When considerations of national policy make it desirable to avoid higher tariffs, those injured by the competition should not be required to bear the full brunt of the impact,” he said. But today, the U.S. spends a smaller proportion of its wealth on worker retraining than any of the other 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development except for Mexico and Chile.

Too often, the attitude of the U.S. government has been deeply irresponsible, assuming that markets would simply sort everything out for the best. In the long run, everybody may end up with work and income, but, in the short run, as Peterson told Nixon, the failure to help Americans adapt to the new reality will “leave long periods when the transition is painful beyond endurance.”

With technology change, too, we know well in advance exactly what is coming. Driverless technology, for example, will soon become the standard in the trucking industry. Driverless trucks can run 24 hours a day and won’t demand overtime pay. There are 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., and an additional 5.5 million jobs in related industries – roughly one in every 15 American workers. They could perhaps go to work for UPS or deliver pizzas, but many of those delivery jobs will be lost to drones.

Personal-care robots will increasingly replace home healthcare aides, and self-checkout machines are already replacing retail-store clerks; these are jobs that filled some of the gap left by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs to global competition, but they, too, will soon be under siege. Automation is even hitting law and education, two sectors long thought immune to technological substitution.

See also: How Technology Breaks Down Silos  

These vulnerabilities necessitate something that too often was absent in the era of globalization: good public policies. Artificial intelligence will transform teaching, for example, but, without access to the highest-speed broadband, students in poor and rural areas will fall further behind their urban counterparts. And unless we strengthen social safety nets and retraining schemes, there will be far too many losers in the labor market. There is no way to avoid the huge impact that technology will have on employment; we have to prepare for it and help those whose skills it antiquates.

Much more even than globalization, technology is going to create upheaval and destroy industries and jobs. This can be for the better, helping us create more interesting jobs or freeing up time for leisure and artistic pursuits. But unless we find ways to share the prosperity and help Americans adapt to the coming changes, many could be left worse off than they are. And, as we have seen this year, that is a recipe for an angry backlash—and political upheaval.

This article was written with Edward Alden.

The Revolution Is Coming! Be Ready

The world, the world of risk and risk in the world will be as different in 2020 as the original 13 colonies were from the U.S. as it is today.

The bad news is that Paul Revere won’t ride through your town alerting you.

So you'll have to settle for me — and I am, in fact, giving you enough warning to design your future, and not just manage toward it.

Understand: When one thing is different, it is change. When everything is different, it is chaos.

Change works for dinosaurs. Chaos doesn’t.

But chaos brings opportunity for those who are prepared, and, if you’ve survived in this industry for any length of time, you are able to adapt. Your only issue is one of willingness.

What follows are the 10 environmental factors that, in combination, are triggers of the coming Risk Revolution. These cultural changes are fissures in the foundation of the “good old days” and render vulnerable all traditional institutions and structures that have done so well for so long.

  1. Loss of innocence: When President Nixon said during the Watergate scandal, “I am not a crook,” he acknowledged the end of command and control. Raw power could no longer sustain the most powerful man in the world. As citizens, we confronted the “feet of clay” of our leaders. What Nixon did to weaken our trust in our political leaders, terrorists in airplanes on 9/11 did to our confidence. We won two world wars and are insulated and isolated from the “evil” out there by oceans on our coasts, but it is not enough. We have to accept we are vulnerable.
  2. Katrina was a “girl” but she was no lady: When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, it breached levees and created a Mad Max world that none were ready to face. Our institutions – federal, state and local government, the Red Cross, etc. – were supposedly built for catastrophes but failed us. Our confidence in our system of order was lost. We must rethink the world.
  3. “Hell no, we won’t go”:  war protests, burned bras, tie-dyed T-shirts, Elvis and the Beatles, hippies who protested everything except the right to protest. This was the marketplace speaking for the first time. Tomorrow, the market won't be quieted.
  4. ________ – Americans:  African-Americans, Asian-Americans, you-name-it-Americans. We're no longer a homogeneous nation. One size does not fit all. The change will accentuate the world of niches, affinity groups and “verticals” and so fragment the market that mass customization will be required, down to a niche of one. We want it “our way,” and not just in fast food.
  5. The front porch and the back fence are gone: Time and place now have little value, and “pace” is as fast as the buyer wants it to be. The question is: If Gen Y is known for a lack of empathy, how do you sell in a nonverbal world?
  6. Tennis balls and Patty Hearst: Sgt. Gill, an intelligence officer, told me in 1972 about satellites that could read the label on your tennis ball while you were playing. In 1973, Jim, another military intelligence guy discovered that, while his data mining model couldn’t help the FBI find Patty Hearst, he could find everyone in America who was just like her. In an era of satellites/drones/etc. and big data, what happens to privacy?
  7. Miss Hathaway: In the finance department of LSU, Joan always reminded me of Miss Hathaway from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” She told me decades ago, “Mike, this LexisNexis thing is going to be big.” She was talking about the Internet. She was right.
  8. From Ozzie and Harriet to Archie Bunker to the Huxtables to the Simpsons to the Modern Family and maybe to the Jetsons: The world keeps changing, and lots of people don't like that. They want to hold on to the past. Political correctness, shouts of racism and sexism, a bipolar political process, extremes, etc. all limit our willingness to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” We are changed forever, and so is our society and its most basic building block – the family. Deal with it.
  9. “If you have all your eggs in one basket, make sure it’s a strong basket.”: That line, from a Volvo ad, circa 1980, applies today because we are betting the economy and our world on technology . What happens if a natural disaster, a terrorist, an enemy or sun spots disables our technology for a week, a month, a year?
  10. Addictions: Addiction to the status quo is the worst. In this most serious form of dependency, we sacrifice everything to do nothing but protect our comfort zone. The insurance industry once owned the world of risk. Now we have done more than “let the camel’s nose under the tent.” We are now sleeping with the camel. When the market demanded innovation, we too often failed to provide it. Instead we gave up our responsibility and let government and others do what we didn’t want to do. Captives, alternative risk funding, HMOs, the ACA, self-insurance and the National Flood Insurance Program are all examples of decisions being made without us. That is the nature of markets. We were too slow, and something else filled the void. We still face two fundamental challenges: Our products are priced beyond the ability of many consumers to pay, and some embrace a “nanny state.”

The trends identified are not all right and they are not all wrong. They just are. What will 2020 bring your world? What will you do to prepare?

Remember the admonition from Peter Drucker, “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they send 40 years of prosperity.” The last decades have been good to us. The next decades can be, too, but only with the right amount of awareness, preparation, discipline and commitment.

George C. Scott, playing Gen. George Patton in the movie “Patton,” said: “In times of war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” 

Are you ready, willing and able to fight and prevail in the coming Risk Revolution?