Today’s policy making resembles a maze. From polling to governing, the field of public policy is facing a crisis of both confidence and direction. Policy makers are challenged with answering not only how we arrived here, but the much more pressing question of, now what? As the Georgetown Public Policy Review highlighted last year in the Disruption Edition, the landscape of how industries and governments operate on such a shifting field is complex and dynamic. For the next spring theme, we now turn our focus to the impact of disruption: uncertainty.
Politics in Flux
The seas of public discord seen during 2016 – manifesting in a shocking Brexit vote, chaos in Venezuela, and Donald Trump assuming the presidency – do not appear any calmer as we near the end of 2017. Decades of international cooperation and moderate liberal reforms have been swapped for jingoistic characters capitalizing on fear and nationalistic zeal. Political strongmen are making inroads from Turkey, the Philippines, India, to United States. Is this a short lived trend or a lasting change in how countries are governed?
The uncertainty extends into foreign policy. Policy after policy have failed in such globally intertwined issues such as the Korean Peninsula nuclear race, Mediterranean Sea migrant crisis, and a unified approach to addressing climate change. Uncertainty in political landscapes can produce momentous ripple effects, from international trade deals to military alliances.
How are these problems addressed? In what direction is the international world order heading?
Institutions in Flux
Trust in a wide variety public institutions is rapidly declining. In the United States, congressional representatives continue to earn near single digit approval ratings. More shocking is the continued dip in support of once highly regarded institutions such as the press and higher education. Even long standing trust in the judiciary is declining, from a peak of 76% in 2009 to 53% in 2015.
This trend is not unique to the United States. Across the globe, confidence continues to decline in two and four-year education institutions, the media, NGOs, and business leaders. The uncertainty resulting from waning public trust is choking information sharing and aiding to the rise of hyper-partisanship. When facts are bastardized and bubbles separate regions of a country, a well-informed electorate, the most important characteristic of a democracy, cannot be achieved.
How do policy makers address this dearth of public support?
Industry in Flux
As we sit on the precipice of a fourth industrial revolution, economic and labor policy makers face a growing pressure to adapt. Markets will continue to evolve and conform to automation and technological advances, spawning new job-rich fields in areas such as data mining and computer programming. Yet the number of displaced workers around the world will soon increase, especially in professions where the probability of automation remain high, such as telemarketers (99%), tellers (98%), real estate brokers (97%), and jewelers (96%).
Policy makers are left with the puzzle of how to retrain millions of workers in fields at risk of replacement.
With middle-income professions shrinking, public discord could be exacerbated by the growing split in the economy as technology phases out jobs in middle-skill industries like mining and manufacturing. The resulting bifurcation between low-skill and high-skill jobs could worsen class struggle. While an Orwellian society remains planted in the pages of fiction, the mere possibility of such a divide occurring requires immediate attention.
At GPPR, we will continue to bring context to the challenge of uncertainty and related issues over the next year. Establishing a coherent explanation of how we got here is imperative; but to properly plan and acclimate to a world fast at change, we must attempt to shine a light on the uncertainty surrounding us and our world.