Modern Business

Betting on America

How public money and geographical diversity can build a better tomorrow

By Kate Pavao

Fall 2019

“America does generate jobs,” says Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and a coauthor of Jump-Starting America. “But many are employed in jobs that don’t pay a living wage or don’t pay a wage that can enable them to afford a middle-class lifestyle.” Here, Johnson tells Profit how public funding can help private companies, as well as American workers, thrive.

Jump-Starting America

On the Future

It’s a competition, and the way to win is by investing: in your own people, in your future, in your own ability to innovate. Technology waits for no one. The people who invent new technologies will get a disproportionate share of the good jobs going forward.

On the Jump-Start

During World War II and the post-war period, America’s public support for research and development, particularly federal government support, proved highly complementary to private research and development. We’re proposing to modernize that idea and apply it in a way that would work, given the nature of the global economy and competition for ideas.

On Competition

Other countries have studied American history and do a better job of applying some of the lessons. Singapore’s really thought about technology strategies, skills, the role of foreign investors, and what they want to do locally. China has gotten rich primarily through raising productivity, through factory production, and by integrating global supply chains. Now they’re becoming much more innovative, and they learn from us.

On America’s Advantage

America has been one of the most open societies to new people and new ideas. The culture is extremely pro innovation.

On Geographic Diversity

Increasingly, talented people want to work and live near each other. That’s highly productive, but the result is we’ve created these extremely congested and expensive places to live. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of technology capacity and development potential in many places in America that have strong universities, for example. The US has always had such a large geography, such a wide and diverse set of people, that there are always places that can do better and places that can compete to attract talent.

Illustration by Wes Rowell