Walter Russell Mead, who just happens to be the keynote dinner speaker at the December 8 “Across the Spectrum” event being co-hosted by the Buckeye Institute, the Center for Community Solutions, and the Greater Ohio Policy Center, captures the pulse of the changes confronting America today.
For those unfamiliar with his blog, it is always a must read here at the Buckeye Institute. Mead writes objectively and is no wild-eyed ideologue with an ax to grind, though he has admitted to being a democrat and to voting for the current President. This is why his work is so fascinating and a big reason why we reached out to him to speak at our event.
It is also why understanding Meade’s trenchant critique of what could be called the “Blue State” model is so important. We have blogged about this before, but this is an issue of such overwhelming importance, it deserves to be referred to again and again.
Recognizing the fundamental nature of the changes that are transforming the American economy and how America governs itself is the only way to begin making sense of what is happening across the country.
Recently, Mead again hit home on some real food for thought,
“In any case, it’s important to understand that the fiscal crisis now besetting all levels of government is more opportunity than curse. We need to reinvent and re-engineer the way some of our most basic institutions work. The cost squeeze will force our cities and states to become incubators of new ideas and new practices.
Interestingly, even as political rhetoric escalates and people all over the country wring their hands about our bitter polarization and gridlock, both left and right seem to be moving in the same general direction. In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, financial reality is forcing flexibility and innovation. The Tea Party Republican and the Obama consigliere are both taking on encrusted work practices and inefficient, expensive union labor.”
Ever since the beginning of the Progressive era, the so-called “Blue State” model has driven much of how America governed itself.
The “Blue State” model was very much a statist model that embraced big government, higher taxes, and regulations. As one of our guest bloggers mentioned in a previous post,
“In retrospect, it is clear that the blue model was possible only because, after WWII, the U.S. was the only nation with an industrial base able to meet world demand. As Europe and Japan recovered, however, this started to change. And the pace of change rapidly accelerated as heretofore undeveloped nations like China, India, South Korea, Brazil, and so on, with billions of people, started to industrialize and compete in the world market.
Due in major part to globalization, private-sector, union membership fell from its high point of about 33-percent of the work force in 1953 to its current low level of less than 7-percent today. During this time a dichotomy developed. That is, the private sector suffered from global competition and unceasing demands for ever more efficiencies and productivity improvements while the public sector was more or less immune from these mega-forces.”
The problem today is that the model no longer works at all and is threatening to strangle the future of growth in this nation and Ohio in particular.
Not unlike other states in the Midwest, Ohio used to be an industrial giant. That has certainly changed in the last few decades. Ohio went from 1,044,200 manufacturing jobs in 1990 to 611,700 in 2010. Looking at the latest Buckeye Institute’s Ohio by the Numbers report you can see that even after an uptick, we still have only 630,200. That remains over 400,000 less than two decades ago.
Meanwhile, Ohio gained nearly 200,000 jobs in “professional and business services” and over 300,000 in “education and health services.” That, folks, means Ohio’s employment profile is fundamentally different than half a generation ago.
In fact, not only has Ohio’s job profile changed, it has lost a net of 514,000 private sector jobs since its peak in 2000. These trends of job hemorrhaging and a paradigm shift in those that remain points to the fact that Ohio is in the throes of dramatic change. Yet, Ohio remains in thrall to the “Blue State” model and faces a huge task of reimagining what the future must be.
There have been tweaks here and there to the model that was meant to make it more sustainable. In many ways, Issue 2 represents the largest one yet. But make no mistake, the model itself is deeply entrenched and its defenders are not about to go quietly in the night.
There are those in Ohio that believe that having the state budget grow 41 percent over inflation, as the Buckeye Institute found in its Six Principles for Fixing Ohio report, is ok.
There are those that think its ok that Ohio’s 613 school districts have a projected cumulative deficit of $7.6 billion by 2015, of which an average of 96 percent is tied up in compensation packages. After all, they’ll just ask taxpayers to dig a little deeper to pay for it no matter the taxpayers’ own job situation.
There are those that think being a forced union state “protects the middle class” despite the fact that since 1990, Right to Work states have added over 11 million new jobs compared to only a little over 7 million in the forced union ones.
Many of these people howl and scream whenever any changes are suggested. Even the moderate reforms at the heart of Issue 2 have elicited an unprecedented campaign barrage by the entrenched status quo.
Ohio still has options and it still has hope, but the mindset of many must change for opportunities to be embraced.
One possible guide for how to rethink is Mr. Mead.