By Kish Rajan
Monday night’s debate was full of barbs and zingers from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And while the candidates’ personalities were on full display, they spent very little time discussing actual policy.
I guess that shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. This year’s election, more than any other I can remember, has been more about emotion than substance. But I can’t help feeling disappointed that they didn’t talk about the opportunities and challenges in the tech industry.
As the night started, I had some hope. The first part of Monday night’s presidential debate was dedicated to “achieving prosperity.” Moderator Lester Holt explained that meant creating more jobs, something we desperately need.
Clinton made a small reference to tech when she mentioned jobs in innovation and technology, but that was it for the rest of the night. Job talk shifted to trade issues, and the only other time technology came up was in a discussion about cybersecurity.
This was a real missed opportunity. Tech is quickly becoming the driver of our ecomony. According to the government’s Bureau for Labor Statistics, STEM jobs are growing at 13% per year, faster than any other sector. Tech jobs pay some of the highest wages, and for every new tech job, 4.3 more jobs are created in other fields thanks to the multiplier effect, according to the Bay Area Council.
Tech deserved more than a glancing reference when talking about job growth. There are serious policy concerns that can either hurt or harm the tech industry. Modernizing tax policies, new strategies for education and workforce development, access to capital to start new businesses and regulatory reform — all of these issues are critical to tech entrepreneurs, and we need to see them talked about more on the national stage.
Then there is the sharing economy, which is growing in leaps and bounds. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit are remaking the economy in incredibly fundamental ways. A job is no longer for life; that’s just reality. These new companies are opening up new opportunities for people who may be underemployed or who just want more flexibility to control their own work life.
From my point of view, the new economy is doing a lot of good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be regulated, and the choices the government makes about those regulations will have an enormous impact on whether this industry thrives or whether it struggles to find its footing.
At the most basic level, the new realities of work mean that we need to rethink things like tax breaks and benefits. Obamacare was a good start in that it gave everyone the chance to get health care without having to stay beholden to a specific employer. But we need to go further. More benefits need to be portable, sticking to the worker not the employer. We need to talk about things like wage insurance and evolving our tax code to reflect the changing nature of work.
Then there’s the digital divide. While at the top end of the economic scale people have access to iPhones, lightning-fast broadband and the newest whiz-bang wearables, too often people at the bottom are struggling with dial-up service if they have any access to the internet at all.
In order for this group to thrive, they need to be able to have steady broadband access, not just to be able to keep in touch with loved ones and take advantage of growing entertainment opportunities but to apply for jobs, get online training and access benefits that are increasingly going digital.
Closing this divide needs to be a priority for our government. It would be great if our next president acknowledged this and talked about ways to fix the problem.
The reality is that our economy is quickly moving into a new world of work that won’t be like anything we’ve seen before. But our leaders are still stuck in the same old paradigm. They talk about job security and “making America great again” in a way that recalls an era long gone, one that, for better or worse, isn’t coming back.
At the next presidential debate, I hope to see more from the candidates. Personal insults and clever one-liners are great for reality TV. But they don’t help much when it comes to leadership.