Politicians on the right and left agree on one thing: it's all about jobs. President Obama's September 8th speech to Congress hinged on job creation, as did the GOP's presidential debate the day before.
Political leaders can't complete a sentence without mentioning jobs. But Washington seems to be talking about jobs as though they'll magically spring up as a result of the right policy implementation or tax cut or tax hike.
That's dangerously misguided, says Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup and author of an excellent and timely new book, The Coming Jobs War (Gallup Press, October 4th). His book's title, and use of war imagery, is more martial than I prefer. But Clifton's heart is in the right place. And he knows what he's talking about: Gallup has created many jobs over the years, and a talented business executive like Clifton knows first-hand that jobs aren't a consequence of complex policies orchestrated by distant leaders. Jobs are a renewable resource -- and one that may have more impact than leaders realize.
"Humans used to desire love, money, food, shelter, safety, and/or peace and freedom more than anything else. The last 30 years have changed us. Now people want to have a good job and a good job for their children," writes Clifton, basing his work on 75 years of Gallup research. "This changes everything for world leaders. Everything they do -- from waging war to building societies -- will need to be done within the new context of the human need for a good job."
His prescription for job creation isn't simple, but it is deeply considered. First, he says, recognize that "the coming world war is an all-out global war for good jobs," and that leaders, political, social, religious and academic, must turn all their energy to creating the conditions that foster jobs. Most of those jobs will arise in cities, he says, which means city leaders are in control of a jobs "super collider," based around universities.
Clifton is concerned, however, that cities are hobbled by several problems, including destructively high healthcare costs (which can best be solved, he says, by individual lifestyle choices) low energy workplaces (which destroy engagement and reduce productivity and profitability) and schools that don't prepare kids to be tomorrow's entrepreneurs.
That last point may be among the most controversial. Clifton says there's an oversupply of innovators and a deficit of entrepreneurs -- the people who create viable businesses (and jobs) out of ideas. Until kids are taught they should want to be entrepreneurs, job creation is almost a matter of luck. Put another way: Great business people matter more than great ideas.
And according to Clifton, we're running out of time to depend on luck. He is concerned that America is being out-job-resourced by China and several other growing economies. "Although the United States has a much higher GDP, it now has tiny GDP growth -- about 2 percent a year," he writes. "China has a much lower GDP, but its GDP is increasing at nearly 10 percent annually. That means unless there is a miracle, China will meet and exceed the GDP of the United States in less than 30 years . . . At that point, China will have the new world-leading GDP. China will have the new world-leading economy. China will be the new leader of the world, free or otherwise."
Whether or not that worries you probably depends on where you live and work. But what should worry everyone, employed or not, is that Gallup research also shows that extended periods of joblessness are financially, physically, emotionally, and socially devastating. Clifton writes that it doesn't take long for the unemployed to withdraw from their own lives, ending their participation in their communities and even families, and that they often don't return, even when their jobs do.
Politicians aren't talking about jobs in those terms, nor about the long term, psychologically devastating effects that linger from high levels of unemployment. They may not be aware of it -- Gallup's science on it is that fresh. That's what makes The Coming Jobs War especially relevant, I think. Clifton's book spells out the actual cost of unemployment, to people and societies. It also lays out a design for a long term, sustainable job creation machine built from the entrepreneur up. It's a compelling read and a smart strategy from a proven entrepreneur.
But more than that, The Coming Jobs War is a breath of fresh air. When leaders talk as though jobs are created by magical policies, no one can feel secure about the jobs situation. When leaders talk about how good jobs are really created, as readers of this book will be doing very soon, we can start feeling that the recovery is finally underway.