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Even in the midst of a historically strong job market, jarring economic transformation is leading presidential candidates to be defined as capitalists or socialists. If the political debate continues in this shorthand, it will miss the principal issue that has animated voters’ views in recent elections: The American Dream is no longer viable — or is at least deeply at risk — for wide swaths of the population. Voters want candidates whose proposals will generate market power for individual workers.
The issue is critical given the biggest social and economic challenge facing the world — the dislocation of workers by artificial intelligence and automation. This transformation is exacerbating the crisis of inequality. So far, the answer from politicians of both parties is simply for those individuals to “re-skill.” This is a mistake — and one we’ve made before.
In addressing the last major disruption — globalization — policymakers’ attempts at labor-market reform lagged behind rapid economic transformation, thus undercutting workers. Today, expanding access to skills must be part of a broader agenda that results in workers obtaining power in the marketplace; they should share in the wealth their know-how creates and benefit from the data their engagement provides. This is what will bring back income growth and career security and preserve the dignity of work.