A big reason for the high levels of dissatisfaction among middle- and working-class voters, particularly baby boomers, is the sense that the prosperity of the preceding generation has vanished.
The post-war boom that created the largest, most prolific economy ever seen, has withered away, in their eyes, and to a great degree, they’re not wrong.
Efforts by those who make it their business to return prosperity to heights that restore the hope that the American dream can still be attained are seen by many as floundering, but there are more causes for what we are living through, which is not unique to our time.
Our malaise can be understood through multiple lenses, like the reaction to changing values, the influences of higher populations and immigration, or the impacts of social media.
In The Standard-Times’ introduction last week to UMass Dartmouth’s new chancellor, Dr. Robert Johnson, we recognized a perspective that makes sense of our economy and resonates with a modern approach to economic development. And that encourages us as we imagine the path providing opportunity to the thousands of local students on the campus and the whole region.
Through that lens, Chancellor Johnson sees the necessity of producing graduates ready to succeed in a new economy that will take them through five different industries over their lifetimes, three of which don’t exist yet.
He sees the university’s role in ushering in that economy as a convener of the intellectual capital from industry, government and our educational institutions to enable the kind of innovation and development he witnessed in Worcester, where he was president of Becker College. There he observed how research at the UMass Medical School led to the development of new medicines, and how that has created synergy with Abbott Labs. The elements of that same model of research, innovation and economic growth are plentiful on SouthCoast, and the chancellor (who came to the campus July 1) has readily recognized the potential for research on ocean technology, and the resources that will magnify the knowledge of manufacturers, innovators and people to build some of those new industries and the careers they will provide.Not only ocean work, but renewable energy and a host of other opportunities exist for this region, if only the resources here are tapped wisely.
Rather than pursue a host of opportunities, however, Chancellor Johnson told the editorial board that he will begin a 45-day series of 30 conversations in the region: 20 to be held internally among students, faculty and staff, and the remainder in small groups among SouthCoast government and business leaders. The goal is to identify what two or three things will be most promising as part of the development of a UMass Dartmouth planning document, “Creating the Future, Vision 2025.”
He followed this model at Becker around the industry of digital gaming, and what emerged was the Digital Game Institute, which has spun off for-profit firms, and provides entrepreneurs and students alike — and not just Becker students — with access to all the knowledge resources that emerge from sharing and collaboration. Every business relies on support, he told the board last week, and knowledge is the fuel for what is sometimes called the new growth economy.
As we wrestle with the chicken-and-egg challenges of providing new grads with new-economy jobs, we will see innovation and knowledge accumulate to spawn opportunities that help us move from the mass consumption economy that created the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s. That boom itself was an inevitable result of moving beyond the industrial, factory economy, exemplified in the Great Depression that followed the Roaring Twenties.
Education lies at the source of this process, and a forward-looking, nimble research university on SouthCoast is key to education. Chancellor Johnson is well suited to lead it.