Angry As Hell

In the celebrated 1976 Paddy Chayefsky film "Network," which won four Oscars, the anchorman played by actor Peter Finch famously urges his audience to go to the window and scream, "We're as mad as hell and we're not going to take this anymore." I believe that line captures the sentiments of many voters today. The people cheering for Trump, Cruz and Sanders are mad as hell and are saying they are not going to take this anymore.

The mostly young people backing Sanders have a legitimate beef. They have mortgaged their family's homes to get through college only to discover their degrees are essentially useless but they can never escape those student debts. They also discover to their dismay that under our irrational system of tying health insurance to employment, many of them must do without. The excesses of overpaid CEOs and high tech billionaires only serve to exacerbate their resentment.

Much of the support for Trump and Cruz is coming from working people, or at least people who used to work, who have been displaced from their jobs by automation and foreign competition. We lost six million manufacturing jobs. Not long ago a job in manufacturing was a pathway into the middle class. Millions of these people made good lives for themselves and sent their own kids to college. Today they're frying burgers or greeting patrons at WalMart, struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table.

They believed in the system. They finished high school, probably served in the military, paid their dues and played by the rules. But the system let them down. Even if they have jobs, they haven't had a raise in more than eight years. And of course, like the young people, they also have trouble getting health insurance.

The general sense of alienation is intensified by the presence of millions of illegal aliens in our midst and women on the street with covered faces speaking unfamiliar languages. In sum, it seems to many Americans that they were born to a wonderful country full of promise but it is somehow slipping away before their eyes and their government is doing nothing about it.
I do not share this anger and alienation because I continue to believe this country has the full potential to overcome these problems and create a real opportunity society. What is lacking is leadership by government, business and labor. If we can only get past the impassioned political rhetoric, what we really need is a bi-partisan, public-private strategy to spur growth.

This is not rocket science. Such a strategy would include tax reform, boosting exports, more investment in infrastructure, sophisticated worker training for real jobs, more capital investment, a renewed commitment to research and development, reduced regulatory burdens, policies to encourage innovation, and yes, higher pay for workers at the bottom of the ladder. Our leaders need to take heed of the anger afoot across the land, recognize the legitimate grievances and come up with a coherent strategy for growth.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements. April 2016