The U.S. already has plenty of workers with plenty of skills. But do we have the guts to shed our antiquated ideas about health insurance, education, and work?
I’m convinced that if, we suddenly had freely-transferable, truly portable, and reasonably-priced insurance coverage for everyone who was gainfully employed, we would instantly see two amazing occurrences: (1) a gigantic movement to new jobs, new start-ups and other new opportunities by millions of people who are presently trapped in useless and unproductive jobs because they are prisoners of their existing insurance coverage (2) an equally enormous boost in growth and productivity as the talents, energies and skills of these insurance hostages were suddenly freed up and applied to valuable, innovative new ventures. There’s a great deal of conversation about why productivity gains and better technology are no longer resulting in improved median income levels. Instead, a precious few people keep getting richer. Until very recently, even the best economists were misled by the coincidental parallel movements of productivity improvements, job growth and increases in median income. In reality, the three aren’t necessarily connected. Life still isn’t fair, or as that old William Gibson saying goes, “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” We also hear a lot about skills gaps and the need to retrain zillions of workers to equip them for 21st century jobs. But what we really need to do is overcome the horrible resource displacement that prevents the changes that could make quick and comprehensive contributions to our overall economy and to the economic well-being of millions. Antiquated ideas about insurance play their part, of course. But consider also that the entire world can access educational videos anywhere, anytime, except in one place–our school classrooms. There, state restrictions driven by lobbyists for the teachers unions prevent even forward-looking teachers from using these resources in their classrooms to provide their students with best-of-breed instruction. As hard as this is to believe, in Illinois, “virtual” instruction has to be delivered by an Illinois state-certified instructor. We’ve got plenty of talent, plenty of skills and plenty of people in this country right now. But we’ve got huge numbers of workers who are in the wrong places doing the wrong jobs, all because we haven’t figured out two crucial things: how to increase their mobility so they can move to better-paying jobs (portable insurance, for a starter) and, in the case of the millions of place-bound and otherwise location-challenged workers, how to bring the jobs to them. I call this wiki-work: web-distributed, massive scale, collaborative work executed in bits and pieces. The models and examples are there. The solutions are fairly obvious and not costly. There are entrepreneurs just waiting in the wings all over the world to jump on these problems. The question is when and whether we have the will and the courage to make the changes that will make a better world for generations to come.