What will ‘ Next Amer­ica’ be?

The Republican Herald - - OPINION - Thomas Friedman ( Friedman is a writer for The New York Times)

I have this feel­ing that the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in the United States will be un­like any in my life­time, and not only be­cause it will likely in­volve Don­ald Trump run­ning as an in­cum­bent but also be­cause the huge is­sue that should have been the fo­cus of the 2016 elec­tion will be un­avoid­able by 2020. That is: How do we gov­ern the “Next Amer­ica’’?

This Next Amer­ica will raise a whole web of new in­ter­twined pol­icy, le­gal, moral, eth­i­cal and pri­vacy is­sues be­cause of changes in tech­nol­ogy, de­mo­graph­ics, the en­vi­ron­ment and glob­al­iza­tion that are reach­ing crit­i­cal mass.

Where do I start? A good place is with 5G — fifth- gen­er­a­tion wire­less sys­tems. With the two tele­com gi­ants Ver­i­zon and AT& T now begin­ning to de­ploy 5G tech­nol­ogy across the coun­try, the me­tab­o­lism of busi­ness, en­ter­tain­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and health care will dra­mat­i­cally ac­cel­er­ate in the Next Amer­ica, begin­ning around ... 2020.

Get­ting the most from ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing re­quires quickly trans­mit­ting mas­sive amounts of data with very low la­tency. With 5G, a Hol­ly­wood movie that now takes six or seven min­utes to down­load onto your iPad will take six or seven sec­onds and mi­crosen­sors in your shirt will gather in­tel­li­gence and broad­cast vi­tal signs to your doc­tor.

It could be as rev­o­lu­tion­ary as the in­ter­net. But it will re­quire all kinds of new reg­u­la­tions to gov­ern ap­pli­ca­tions from self- driv­ing cars to drone de­liv­ery sys­tems to robots that will work as se­cu­rity guards and home health aides.

An As­so­ci­ated Press re­port on Mon­day said that the gov­ern­ment es­ti­mated there were cur­rently “about 110,000 com­mer­cial drones op­er­at­ing in U. S. airspace, and the num­ber is ex­pected to soar to about 450,000 in 2022.’’

All of this new tech­nol­ogy will have im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions for the ed­u­ca­tion- to- work pipe­line. My friend Heather E. McGowan, a fu­ture- of- work strate­gist, puts it this way: “The old model of work was three life blocks: Get an ed­u­ca­tion. Use that ed­u­ca­tion for 40 years. And then re­tire. We then made the faulty as­sump­tion that the next new model would be: Get an ed­u­ca­tion. Use it for 20 years. Then get re­trained. Then use that for 20 more years and then re­tire.’’

But in fact, in the Next Amer­ica, ar­gues McGowan, the right model will be “con­tin­u­ous life­long learn­ing’’ — be­cause when the pace of change is ac­cel­er­at­ing, “the fastest- grow­ing com­pa­nies and most re­silient work­ers will be those who learn faster than their com­pe­ti­tion.” That means that in ad­di­tion to our tra­di­tional big safety nets — So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care — we will need new na­tional tram­po­lines.

We will need to make some level of post­sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion free to ev­ery Amer­i­can who meets a min­i­mum grade and at­ten­dance re­quire­ment, so that ev­ery adult and ev­ery high school grad­u­ate can earn an as­so­ciate de­gree or tech­ni­cal cer­tifi­cate free of tu­ition at a com­mu­nity col­lege at any time. Ten­nessee has al­ready done that.

These same tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions mean the Next Amer­ica will re­quire changes in an­titrust pol­icy.

“But that def­i­ni­tion is in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant in an age in which the most pow­er­ful com­pa­nies in the world of­fer prod­ucts and ser­vices for ‘ free’ in ex­change for per­sonal data,” Rana Foroohar, the Fi­nan­cial Times tech­nol­ogy columnist, noted in a June 24 es­say. “This has pro­voked calls for a re­turn to the def­i­ni­tion of mo­nop­oly in the 1890 Sher­man An­titrust Act, which em­pha­sizes the need to en­sure that the eco­nomic power of large com­pa­nies does not re­sult in the cor­rup­tion of the po­lit­i­cal process.”

That’s be­cause we are more than con­sumers, “we’re cit­i­zens,” notes Mukunda. “We have in­ter­ests that stretch far be­yond con- sumer pric­ing, and it’s the job of the gov­ern­ment to pro­tect cit­i­zens’ lib­erty, not just con­sumers’ in­ter­ests. …’’

Just one per­son — Mark Zucker­berg — con­trols Face­book, What­sApp and In­sta­gram. The fact that he has shown him­self to be much more in­ter­ested in scal­ing his plat­forms than com­bat­ing those who abused them for po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic gain should make break­ing up or reg­u­lat­ing Face­book a front- and- cen­ter is­sue in 2020. But just the raw po­lit­i­cal weight of be­he­moths like Face­book, Ama­zon, Google, Mi­crosoft and Ap­ple needs a closer look.

The Next Amer­ica is more than tech­nol­ogy. It lit­er­ally will be born in 2020. The U. S. Cen­sus Bureau has pre­dicted that by 2020, for the first time, “more than half of the na­tion’s chil­dren are ex­pected to be part of a mi­nor­ity race or eth­nic group.” That will be­gin a process by which by 2044 “no one racial or eth­nic group will dom­i­nate the U. S. in terms of size,” NPR re­ported.

Alas, though, the fis­cal tools we need to build the Next Amer­ica have been weak­ened by Trump’s tax cuts. The fed­eral deficit was not sup­posed to hit $ 1 tril­lion un­til 2020, but the White House now says it will hit that num­ber in 2019. We’ve had deficits this size in re­sponse to the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, but we’ve never run one so huge dur­ing a boom.

That means the Next Amer­ica may have to be built in the face of higher in­ter­est rates on more debt, with less fis­cal am­mu­ni­tion to stim­u­late the econ­omy should it slow down or face a cri­sis. So the Next Amer­ica may very likely have to raise taxes or trim mil­i­tary spend­ing, or So­cial Se­cu­rity or Medi­care — just when all the baby boomers are re­tir­ing.

In sum, the Next Amer­ica re­quires ad­dress­ing each of those is­sues, and many more and how they in­ter­act. So the next elec­tion must, too. The crazi­ness around Trump has de­layed much of this dis­cus­sion. But 2020 won’t let us do that again. The Next Amer­ica won’t wait.

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