It has now been fifteen and a half years since the American Century ended – a century in which our nation overcame depression, led the world against evil multiple times, and recorded some of the greatest advancements in human history: airplanes in the sky, boot prints on the moon, the world’s knowledge first brought online. And all of this was possible because we built what no civilization had ever built before: a vibrant, stable, accessible middle class through which our people drove the affairs of the world.
My parents, two immigrants from Cuba with little formal education, reached the middle class in that century. They did so through humble jobs, first at an assembly plant for lawn chairs; then my mother went on to work as a cashier, a maid, and a stock clerk at K-Mart, and my father as a bartender for hotel banquets.
They never got rich, but they achieved the American Dream. Because through these modest jobs, they reached financial security, raised their family in a safe neighborhood, provided for our needs, and left their children with lives even better than their own.
More people achieved this in America in the 20th century than at any other time and in any other place in human history. But today, many jobs like the ones my parents held no longer provide a viable path to the middle class.
Their jobs assembling lawn chairs, or even the cashier job my mother held, have likely been replaced by machines. Other similar positions have been outsourced or have paid the same wage for a decade or more. Most of those impacted lack the qualifications to move into better-paying positions, and the higher education they need is too expensive or requires too much time away from work and family.
The result is that the path to the middle class is narrower today than it has been for generations, and the American Dream so many achieved in the last century is in peril.
This hardship is not the result of a cyclical economic downturn that will naturally correct itself. It is born of a fundamental transformation to the very nature of our economy, the disruptions of which have been prolonged and compounded by the failure of our leaders, our policies, and our institutions to transform accordingly.
There are two primary forces behind this transformation. The first is radical technological progress – including the development of the Internet, information technologies, wireless and mobile capabilities, robotics, and more. The second has risen partly from the first, and that is globalization. From where you sit, you can sell a product to someone on the other side of the world almost as easily as to the person on your left or right. This has pulled us into competition with dozens of other nations for businesses, jobs, talent, and innovation.
Over the last two decades, not a single industry has been untouched by these forces, and the disruptions have triggered a cascade of anxiety. Fewer Americans believe in the viability of the American Dream today than during the worst of the financial crisis in 2009. Many pundits and media outlets stoke these fears, painting a dreary picture of the future in which automation and outsourcing continue to shatter the American workforce.
But history is not silent on this subject. It tells us the future is swayed by the actions we take, not the predictions we make. Generations of Americans before us have faced equally disruptive periods of transformation. In the Industrial Revolution, machines suddenly automated tasks people had built their lives around for centuries.
Like today, the beginning was rough: jobs were lost, wages were static, and new wealth was concentrated at the top. Doubts and fears about the future were widespread. But then something changed. When our children learn about the Industrial Revolution today, they learn it was a period of progress. Yes, jobs were lost – but even more were gained, and the middle class expanded, thrived, and laid the cornerstone of the American Century.
So how did that generation overcome its challenges? It wasn’t through resistance: pushing back against new technologies or trying to resurrect old jobs. It was through adaptation: businesses integrating new technologies, workers learning new skills, and leaders leading in a new direction.
Today’s Technological Revolution carries extraordinary opportunities – even more, I believe, than the Industrial Revolution ever did. But we have not yet seized these opportunities, nor is it guaranteed that we will. Whether we do or do not will depend on the actions we take, the leaders we choose, and the reforms we adopt.
For the first fifteen and a half years of this century, Washington has looked to the past. Our economy has changed, but our economic policies have not. And we have learned, painfully, that the old ways no longer work – that Washington cannot pretend the world is the same as it was in the ‘80s, it cannot raise taxes like it did in the ‘90s, and it cannot grow government like it did in the 2000s.
The race for the future will never be won by going backward. It will never be won by hopping in Hillary Clinton’s time machine to yesterday. She seems to believe pumping more of today’s money into yesterday’s programs will bring prosperity tomorrow. It will not. Nor will thinking small. Hiking the minimum wage by a few dollars will not save the American Dream; it will accelerate automation and outsourcing. Increasing taxes and regulations will not promote fairness or opportunity; it will snuff out innovation and crush small business.
We need a new president for a new age – one with original ideas to unlock the two great doors to the future: the doors of innovation and education. Only through an innovative economy can we translate new technologies into new middle class jobs, and only through a revolutionized higher education system can we equip all our people to fill those jobs.
Prosperity in our time is likely… if we act now to embrace the future. We have opportunities that have never existed before, and a chance to seize them that will never exist again. I come before you today to discuss my ideas to spur American innovation onward, to ensure the rise of the machines will not be the fall of the worker, and to create a new American Century – propelled by a revitalized American Dream, and captured by a vibrant middle class.
We know this much for certain: in the decades ahead, innovation will transform the world. Cars may soon drive themselves. Virtual reality, nanotechnology, robotics, and more will impact us in ways we can’t yet imagine. Our devices will grow more powerful, bringing new capabilities to the masses. The question is not whether innovations are coming. The question is whether America will develop and produce them, and whether our people will share in the wealth they create.
To build the most innovation-friendly economy in the world, we must build the most business-friendly economy in the world. Right now we have, quite nearly, the exact opposite. The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. We have a tax code that punishes American companies for competing in the global economy, and a regulatory system that prevents small businesses – the primary engines of innovation and job creation – from competing against established players.
The results of this approach are in: For the first time in 35 years, we have more businesses dying than being born. In the first quarter of this year, our economy shrank for the third time since our recovery began. And over the last decade, the U.S. has lost $179 billion worth of domestic companies through foreign takeovers.
When I am president, I will empower innovators rather than punish them. I will cut our corporate tax rate to be competitive with the average of 25 percent for developed nations. If this had been done ten years ago, instead of losing $179 billion worth of American businesses, we would have acquired $590 billion worth of foreign firms.
I will also establish a territorial tax system. Today, when an American company earns money overseas, it is taxed once in the country it is earned in and again if it is brought back to America. We are the only G8 country that levies that second tax, and the understandable impact is that many companies choose never to bring their money back home. Apple, for example, has $171 billion sitting overseas. That money would be an immediate economic boost, but because Apple would be punished for bringing it back, they choose not to.
My tax plan will also allow immediate, 100% expensing for businesses. This means the more a company invests in creating jobs, the less they owe in taxes; and the more they pay their workers, the less they pay government.
I will put a ceiling on the amount U.S. regulations can cost our economy. Just since 2008, federal regulations have cost us $771 billion. Many of these regulations are the result of an alliance between big business and big government.
Hillary Clinton argues the economy is rigged in favor of wealthy interests – but what she won’t tell you is that big government is doing the rigging. A massive regulatory apparatus inevitably becomes the instrument of those with the lawyers and lobbyists necessary to influence it.
Government should work to empower and protect the private sector, not to control it. Just two months ago, I proposed a bipartisan plan with Senator Chris Coons to modernize our national lab system, which has long been a leading source of research in science, medicine, energy, and technology. Currently this research gets trapped in the public sector, but my legislation would increase the labs’ flexibility to partner with private industry.
We must also recognize the industries that need special protection in the 21st century. In its short life, the Internet has become one of humanity’s greatest treasures, which is why it belongs in the hands of our people, not our government. In the Senate, I have fought to safeguard and reinforce Internet freedom and digital opportunity, and will continue that fight as president.
I led a coalition opposing efforts to cede Internet regulatory power to the International Telecommunications Union. I also advanced a comprehensive wireless plan to expand unlicensed spectrum. Spectrum is the highway of the digital age, but the amount made available to the public is limited, and the result is a digital traffic jam. As president, I will reallocate spectrum for public use, which could create an estimated 350,000 jobs per 500Mhz.
Finally, to win the global competition for innovation, we must win the global competition for talent. This requires reforming our legal immigration system to make it skill- and merit-based rather than family-based, which will protect American workers and attract more talent to grow our economy and create jobs.
Innovation is the first door to the future. But even once we pass through it, a second door remains shut in front of us. Innovation will create millionaires and even billionaires, but we must also ensure it creates a vibrant middle class. And that can only be done through the modernization of our higher education system.
As our technological capabilities grow, it is true that we will see more low-paying jobs replaced by machines. But that’s only part of the story. With the innovation economy I just discussed, we will also see the creation of higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs that only humans can perform.
History backs this up. When the power loom was invented, for example, many feared it would eliminate all textile jobs. The truth turned out to be the opposite. The loom increased production, and as production increased, so did demand, and as demand increased, so did the need for skilled laborers who could operate the machines and manage the factories. Jobs in the textile industry actually increased for 100 years.
But these jobs did not immediately pay higher wages. Before that could happen, workers needed to learn marketable skills that could be standardized across the industry. Only then could the methods learned in one factory become useful in another, which increased the need for experienced labor and gave workers leverage to demand higher wages.
The lesson of history is clear: to empower today’s workers, we must equip them with today’s skills. And to do that, we need our higher education system to innovate at the same rate as our economy.
In the next ten years, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created, but if our higher education system stays stuck in the past, 2 million of these jobs will be left unfilled. The same skills gap is felt across industries: nearly one out of every three American employers reports having difficulty finding skilled applicants.
Yet we still tell students that to get a degree, they have to spend four years on a campus; tens of thousands of dollars on tuition, books, room, board; and hundreds of hours in a classroom, often learning subjects that aren’t relevant to the modern economy.
The result is that many young people are graduating with mountains of debt for degrees that will not lead to jobs, and many who need higher education the most – such as single parents and working adults – are left with few options that fit their schedules and budgets.
The problems with higher education are many, but the ideas from Hillary Clinton and other outdated leaders are narrow and shortsighted. We do not need timid tweaks to the old system; we need a holistic overhaul – we need to change how we provide degrees, how those degrees are accessed, how much that access costs, how those costs are paid, and even how those payments are determined.
As president, I will begin with a powerful but simple reform. Our higher education system is controlled by what amounts to a cartel of existing colleges and universities, which use their power over the accreditation process to block innovative, low-cost competitors from entering the market.
Within my first 100 days, I will bust this cartel by establishing a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers. This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition, which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students – just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy.
Other reforms can hasten this transition. I will empower students to choose the right degree at the right price from the right institution for them. I’ve proposed an idea called the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which requires institutions to tell students how much they can expect to earn with a given degree before they take out the loans to pay for it.
I will make student loans more manageable by making Income-Based Repayment automatic for all graduates, so the more they make, the faster they pay back their loans; and the less they make, the less strain their loans cause.
This will reduce the risk associated with loans and ease the shadow of debt hovering over millions of graduates. But for future students, we can also create an alternative to loans that avoids the problem of debt altogether.
I’ve proposed an idea called Student Investment Plans, which would let students partner with investors who would pay their tuition in return for a percentage of their earnings for a few years after graduation. It may result in a profit for the investor or it may not – but unlike with loans, none of the risk lies with the student.
As president, I will also make career and vocational education more widespread and accessible. This can begin as early as high school so we graduate students not just with a diploma, but also with a certification to work as a mechanic, plumber, welder, electrician, or in any number of other good-paying occupations.
And I will expand apprenticeship programs, which can provide on-the-job training and help standardize skills by allowing students to learn methods from experienced workers and spread them throughout the industry.
This is not an exhaustive list of ideas. But I have seen how these can begin to open doors for our middle class. In Miami, I have seen high schoolers graduate certified to begin high-paying careers as BMW technicians. I have known single mothers whose hard-earned degrees have translated into long-sought financial security for themselves and their children. And I have seen higher education shape my own life – both in terms of the enormous costs we must remedy, and the enormous payoff we must extend to all.
My innovation and higher education agendas form only a segment of the policy blueprint I have drawn up for my presidency, but my whole vision is built on a simple concept: New opportunities cannot be seized by old ideas, and the future must be embraced with enthusiasm and vision.
In the 19th century, a generation of Americans did exactly that. They faced challenges similar to ours: the steam engine made the world smaller; the telegraph opened a new age of communication; new machines created new industries and upended a centuries-old economic status quo.
Imagine what the world would look like if that generation had resisted these changes rather than embraced them. Imagine if they had refused to give up the old ways, and allowed the promise of the industrial age to pass them by. The loss would have been suffered not only by their generation, but every generation after. The American Century would never have existed.
The stakes for our time are just as high. If we fail to capture the promise of this new age, we will be the first generation to leave a weaker America behind. But if we succeed, we will lay the cornerstone for a new American Century. We will not just recover economic ground, we will gain it. We will see the creation of higher paying, more fulfilling, more exciting jobs than ever before.
There are those today, as there have always been, who say prosperity is impossible, that the future is lost. It seemed for a while that all you had to do to become a bestselling author was write a book predicting a post-America world, one driven by China or Europe. Many of these forecasts come from people who rarely leave Washington, D.C. If that city is all they see, it’s no wonder they think America is in trouble.
So I say to them: Go to Boston. Walk through Kendall Square, often crowned as the most innovative square mile in the world. There they can peer through the looking glass into a remarkable, revolutionary future for our nation and the world.
I say to them: Go to Florida’s space coast. See how an era of private and public partnership has put new adventures, new achievements, new discoveries within reach of humankind, and how suddenly an American flag on Mars has turned from impossible pipe dream to achievable American Dream.
I say to them: Go to Reno, Nevada. See the data center being built by Apple, see the 1.2-million-square-foot distribution warehouse opened by Amazon, and see the $5 billion “gigafactory” being constructed by Tesla and Panasonic, which will transform the automobile in this century and create as many as 9,000 good-paying jobs in Nevada alone.
I say to them: Go to New Hampshire. Visit Southern New Hampshire University, which is consistently named one of the most innovative organizations in the world – on a list with Apple and Google – for how it pushes against the odds and against the naysayers to bring higher education into the 21st century.
And I say to them: Come to Chicago. Visit 1871, this 50,000-square-foot facility that serves as an incubator for digital innovation in the Midwest, providing entrepreneurs with mentorship, training, programming and educational resources, potential investors and a community of fellow dreamers dedicated to pulling American business into the new age.
These examples are not outliers. They are a pattern. Anyone who sees these things will understand: nothing has changed about our people. We are the inheritors of the American spirit, of the American Dream, of the American Century. In our veins flows the blood of men and women who refused to accept the burdens of their pasts, or to resign to the old ways of doing things.
Just as we pay respect to the Americans of the Industrial Revolution, so will the verdict on our time be written by those who have not yet been born.
Let them write that we did our part – that in the early years of this century, we turned the corner on the past – we elected new leaders for a new time – we adopted policies that encouraged Americans to invent the products of tomorrow, manufacture them, and sell them throughout the world – and we designed the higher education system that allowed our middle class to perform the great work and reap the great rewards of this century.
Time has brought us to the doorstep of the future. But whether we turn the knob and push, whether we step across the threshold of the new age, whether we embrace this century with its challenges and its opportunities, its adventures and its dangers, is a decision that is ours alone to make. I say we have lingered long enough on the future’s edge. I invite you to step forward with me, together.