“We need better intelligence, the kind that is derived not from intercepting a president’s phone calls to his mistress but from hanging out with the powerless.”
That was one of columnist Nicholas Kristof's lessons for U.S. foreign policy drawn from Egypt's revolution. In the New York Times this weekend he pointed out that American journalists and foreign policy experts alike missed the warning signs of what was coming in Egypt in part because they talk to the wrong people. Aha. That's not exactly a revelation to consumers of independent media.
It's not just revolutions in far off places that we miss when reporters ignore the everyday working people, though. Another piece in the very same paper on the very same day examined the consequences of this country's outsourcing-only manufacturing policy. The question raised there was pretty fundamental. It went to the entire justification for globalization.
We've been told that going global serves American interests because increased profits produce innovation, creativity, and investment in new improved products. Right?
The question raised in Louis Uchitelle's deep-inside-the-paper story is, is it even true? Can a country continue to innovative if it's not making the stuff it innovates?
When great products of American innovation are made not here but there—Americans are a world away. Aren't the innovations that will bring us the next iPads and iPhones, for example, in Asia, mostly likely going to come from people who spend their time actually making things, instead?
Robert Kuttner noted this week in the American Prospect that Democrats have become distanced from labor—that most party officials come from the business class and have little appreciation of what workers can do. No wonder they don't think of workers as potential innovators—they barely think of them at all.
The US must export to “win the future,” President Obama said in his State of the Union. Pundit heads nodded. But how much time are they spending listening to the President and his ilk. And how much are they listening to the rest of America?
American workers are not the "powerless" exactly in Kristof's sense of the word. But policy makers keep not listening, down the road, they certainly could be. Things are going that way.