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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bicycle



A bicycle. A golden bicycle. That's how I like to think of our present situation. Luckily it's not a stationary bike, but a mountain model, capable of riding out rough terrain. The bicycle that is now is the ultimate opportunity for job creation. How so?

I'm a firm believer that an economy needs a new catalyst for job growth every six to eight years. Unfortunately with tenures in leadership typically shorter, such a purpose is often left forgotten, like an umbrella in the closet on a rainy day; or, if articulated, it often evaporates quickly in practice. This is nothing new. In fact, in the '90s Clinton was able to grasp this essential driver of the U.S., recognizing the IT opportunity and creating an elaborate environment of incentives, taxation, collaborations, and goals fertile for the IT revolution to grip the air and soar, creating new sectors, realms, and inculcating itself in every niche of our lives. Unfortunately, with relatively short terms in leadership, many higher ups are pressured to produce amazing results in a knee‑jerk flash (a disease of the finance industry as well). As a result, all of us see the world as a blurred moving image, rather than taking the time to stand and take in what's in front of us and perhaps take a scenic still frame to look back on. It's not a lack of ingenuity we have, but a lack of vision, a lack of clarity.

Fortunately what has landed on our front step as we open the red, white, and blue door is not just one prime job spark, but three— a whole bicycle's worth. The front wheel is energy, the rear wheel is infrastructure, and the bicycle frame joining them together is education. Again, I don't want to simply provide talking points, but wanted a good framework to put everything together.

As the front wheel steers us and balances us in precarious situations, so will energy, as the country that leads energy from herein, while no doubt, lead the world's prosperity. Energy (and "energy poverty") is the looming global issue of our time. As has been beaten into our heads, the prospect of a new wave "green collar" jobs is a certainty. As the front wheel, novel energy will take the lead in innovation and will spark both higher design, service, and analytical jobs and a new manufacturing industry. What is needed is the proper topography to build off of, and that does not exist— the cap‑and‑trade plan in the works is a sore inadequacy. We do not need a reprise, we need something transformative. Only when we price carbon most effectively will this front wheel be unlocked. This is not just about climate change (I hate the term global warming as it is often relegated to a joke, suggests something gradual, and completely misses the point on so many effects of climate change), but about that spark that we need every so often.

With all this, we fall back on the rear wheel, infrastructure, to provide the fundamental driving force for all other realms to work. Here again, we cannot just be reactive. The opportunities run across the gamut— schools, roads, hospitals, airports, communications, water, ports, levees— and, while not the most glamorous endeavors, their impact will surely be. Also, these do not just have to be dreary feats of cranes and trucks; as the front wheel has a stake its rear counterpart, we will need people to weatherize buildings and advance our archaic, patchwork electrical grid (power companies don't know your power is out unless you call them and tell them).

Lastly, education, the frame, is needed to hold these pieces together. Here again lies a golden opportunity on which to innovate in methods and emphases, as well as elevate in incentives and reputation. The job spark is as much as in spurring quality as it is in access; while two thirds of the U.S. actually has a system competitive with the Singapores and Norways of the world, the education poverty in the bottom one third pulls the nation down. While our higher education system remains unmatched in the world, access is again the issue. In education, there are two different countries within our own.

Thus, the bicycle gives us a reservoir of jobs. These jobs are no longer latent or pent up. Let's unchain this and make sure it's well oiled. Additionally, with the contours of our opportunity un‑mapped and un‑excavated and to keep mama proud, a helmet is in order.