Watch any TV these days, and the title of Gallup CEO Jim Clifton’s recent book hardly seems prophetic. Companies tout job creation on commercials, news reports obsess over workforce and unemployment statistics, and candidates push tax plans aimed at small business and job creation.
The Coming Jobs War, published this past October, is Clifton’s effort at laying out the issue in statistical perspective and offering some big-picture insights garnered through the research of his Gallup World Poll. The result is a quick-reading, 190-page outline of the critical challenges facing America, and a connect-the-dots path tracing how these problems can be solved.
United States GDP vs. next 5 countries
As Clifton describes it, the United States is in a world competition to fill a shortage of good jobs which currently stands at about 1.8 billion. It’s a battle on which America’s survival depends, and the score is tallied as our GDP (Gross Domestic Product). If trends continue, the United States will be overwhelmed by China before very long (by 2040, says Nobel prize-winner Robert Fogel).
Clifton acknowledges that the United States will need an economic miracle to avoid this catastrophe, but he reminds us we’ve worked miracles before — most recently in the 30-year technological-entrepreneurial boom that kept us ahead of Japan and Germany, helped immeasurably by Al Gore’s High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991.
A refreshing aspect of The Coming Jobs War is Clifton’s gift for pointing out the horse where most analysts focus on the cart. He spends a brief chapter explaining how behavioral economics study the human choices which cause particular outcomes, rather than only the effects themselves, as studied by classical economics.
Job creation by cities, not US government
TV networks and elected officials naturally grapple with employment on a national scale, but Clifton instead envisions solutions hatched in cities — by single-minded city leaders, nurturing “local tribal leaders,” “super mentors,” and universities. He contrasts San Francisco with Detroit and lists Austin vs. Albany as examples of how America’s success or failure happens city-by-city, depending on the strength of local leadership.
Entrepreneurship vs. innovation
Similarly, while politicians attempt to spur innovation, Clifton identifies entrepreneurship as the real job creation catalyst — and the shortage of successful business models as America’s real bottleneck. Innovations, he says, go nowhere until obsessed and driven individuals figure out ways to sell them. It is these determined optimists who must be identified and cultivated. Nevertheless, he concedes that entrepreneurship is a mysterious “rare gift” which has gone largely unstudied.
Dropout rate and loss of hope
Following chapters on “High-Energy Workplaces” and “Customer Science” — which include fascinating examples of the survey data Gallup collects in these areas, and how productivity either flows or does not, depending on specific factors — Clifton turns to America’s K-12 schools and isolates the stunningly simple motivation behind the dropout rate: “Gallup has found that kids drop out of school when they lose hope to graduate. That’s it.”
The Coming Jobs War is a rallying cry. It seeks to pinpoint a short list of specific threats to America’s survival as a world power, and inspire us to start solving them — on a local level — before it’s too late.
Regarding education, this means halving the number of students with no hope of graduating, and improving the image of enterprise and entrepreneurship among 5th through 12th graders. Without this, Clifton warns, “you will experience neither job creation nor city GDP growth.”
Healthcare costs will break us
The book’s strongest prescriptions involve healthcare, which Clifton considers our biggest threat of all:
Unless it is fixed, the healthcare mess will break the U.S. economy and hand the future of capitalism and the best jobs to China, India, and others. I am not overstating this. Healthcare costs alone will break the country because the numbers are so big. America can’t buy its way out of this problem like it has with so many others.
America’s leaders have been working on funding the problem, not solving it, he says. Our $2.5 trillion healthcare costs must be cut exactly in half — and the solutions he proposes are both somewhat shocking and extremely sensible.
For one thing, the solution involves changing Americans’ “relationship to death.” About 22% of all medical spending is on last-year-of-life expenses, but Americans no longer have the unlimited money, Clifton says, “to keep the dying alive a little longer.” He puts this very bluntly: “Somebody has to tell Uncle Louie it’s time to cross to the other side and go join his friends, not run doctor to doctor, accepting one low-probability procedure after another.”
Unfit is unacceptable
More importantly, because 70% of our spending is on preventable conditions, saving our country from economic failure largely depends on us each taking responsibility for our own health, lifestyle, and well-being. Clifton proposes stigmatizing obesity just as smoking has been stigmatized in recent years — making it socially unacceptable to be unfit, and thereby using behavioral economics to solve the biggest drag on our economy.
Here is what the CEO of Gallup says after studying his company’s exhaustive data:
There is no single act of leadership that has bigger money implications than simply doubling the number of fit Americans.
Think about that the next time someone mocks Michelle Obama’s obesity initiative.
One of the customer reviews for The Coming Jobs War at Amazon.com calls it “A book every American should read.” I know that I do want my mayor to read it. I want our “local tribal leaders” and “super mentors” to read it. I want our school board members, school administrators, and teachers to read it.
Like it or not, this war is already under way. If we’re going to have any chance of winning it, it’s going to be helpful for everyone to understand our objectives.