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Globalization may be on the minds of Americans whenever they call a 1-800 number that connects them to the other side of the globe. But Americans aren’t alone. In his new book, The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy for Shared Prosperity, Gene Sperling recalls that in 2003, he met with students at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. When the conversation shifted to outsourcing, he writes, some confusion arose: “[T]hey thought I meant outsourcing jobs from Bangalore to poorer parts of India and Africa.”
It’s a telling anecdote. Despite the “new” economy, Sperling writes, the fact that markets reinvent themselves is old news. What’s different about today’s global, high-tech economy is the sheer speed at which transformation occurs—those who benefit from market upheavals today could be jobless tomorrow.
Sperling’s message to progressives? Welcome economic growth, and use pro-growth policies to move forward.
Diagnosing the country’s macroeconomic plight is familiar territory for the 47-year-old Georgetown resident. Prior to his current billet as senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Sperling spent eight years helping shape the Clinton administration’s economic policies. He also advised the 2004 Kerry–Edwards campaign.
When people read about outsourcing, he says, the damage reverberates beyond the newly unemployed. There’s “a deeper psychic harm than [to] just the people affected,” he says. “Many workers question how much economic security can be guaranteed by not only hard work, but even a college education in such an increasingly fast-paced and competitive global economy.”
In Sperling’s view, the current globalization debate doesn’t approach that problem from the proper perspective. “I was worried that the policy divide might be missing the boat,” he says. On one hand, there are those who want Pandora to slam the lid shut on global markets. On the other, what he calls the “Don’t worry, be happy” crowd believes that reducing the size of government—rather than, say, using government to help protect workers from globalization’s ravages—will spur economic growth.
He lays out a trio of goals—minimizing the disparities in opportunity that may arise from the accident of birth, creating chances for upward mobility, and securing economic dignity for people who work hard—in hopes that by viewing changing markets realistically, “we will be more likely to devise policies that will be effective in promoting shared economic growth and advancing [those] progressive values,” he says.
One such strategy, Sperling argues, is to create a comprehensive birth-to-age-5 education program along the lines of Head Start. Such a move would provide greater education for low-income children. But there’s a pro-growth advantage as well: “Today, we know even more that the type of cognitive problem-solving and reasoning skills that will be most important in our fast-changing economy are significantly affected by brain development and education very early in life,” he says.
By choosing to write about the compatibility of progressivism and economic growth, Sperling says, he passed on other opportunities. He’d been approached about writing either a more traditional memoir or what he terms “more of just a hard-edged attack on President Bush.” Though in The Pro-Growth Progressive he’s written the book he wanted to write, “it was clear that the other styles of books are a more promising way to get attention,” he says. “And a bigger advance.”—Joe Dempsey