Communities everywhere are trying to pinpoint where to invest time and resources to best prepare for the quickly changing global economy. Instead of betting on specifics, Tampa Bay is positioned well to upgrade economics itself.
The economy is an operating system that evolves over time with civilization. Over the past three centuries, only a few places and people have deeply understood and subsequently provided broad direction of it. The first was Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, whose 1776 book The Wealth of Nations created a modern discipline to study economics. In the early 20th century economic philosophy shifted south to Cambridge, where Keynesian economics promoting government stimulus developed in the midst of two world wars and the Great Depression. Finally, in the 1960s Milton Friedman planted the economic flag in the United States, ushering in our current age of neo-liberalism dominated by the Chicago School of Economics.
The U.S. manufacturing machine born in Detroit, the financial wizardry of Wall Street and the seismic technological disruption of Silicon Valley have been directed by Frankenstein-like economic policy. The chaotic mix of Keynesian stimulus and Friedman’s deregulation have created a crony capitalistic monster, incapable of long-term and complex holistic planning.
From chaos, comes opportunity
While other communities are chasing Silicon Valley, blaming Wall Street or reinventing Detroit, there is no region better situated than Tampa Bay to update the industrial age economics that direct how the first three operate. Some fundamental flaws in industrial era economics are the inability of GDP to measure a majority of economic value, the limited economic paradigm of people existing as labor in competition with automation and an exclusive focus on public sector policy recommendations.
Today’s economic institutions and think tanks, regardless of political ideology, focus entirely on writing policy recommendations for the public sector, namely Washington, D.C., to influence the private sector. Liberal groups recommend increased government regulation, and conservative groups recommend deregulation. This focus has divided the nation while simultaneously providing shelter to the economic community. Economists are able to blame politicians and the electorate for a miserable economy without acknowledging their willful contribution.
Today’s global economy requires global economic policy that respects the environment and national sovereignty, while promoting human agency and freedom. Economic policy focused on a single nation cannot address global challenges.
The lost luminaries
The luminaries of the technology sector are in need of guidance. Former Facebook president Sean Parker recently stated he has become “a conscientious objector” to social media, while Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes “we should explore ideas like universal basic income.” Tech sector founders Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Larry Page and Sergey Brin have all acknowledged that automation is eliminating jobs and not one has a realistic recommendation for a way forward.
The only sizable movement coordinated by the world’s richest individuals to improve society has been the recent adoption of the The Giving Pledge to guide philanthropy, based on the 1889 urging of Andrew Carnegie in The Gospel of Wealth. While impressive, the movement cannot scale and is unsustainable due to long-term funding availability. Tampa Bay observed firsthand the challenges faced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant for improving education in Hillsborough County.
With hundreds of billions in cash, the technology sector has the ability to vastly improve society, and in 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for corporations “to provide protection for human beings.” While the pieces are in place for a renaissance in human understanding, innovation and achievement the technology sector’s luminaries are woefully misinformed by antiquated economic policy.
A new economic center
The field of economics is in need of disruptive and innovative new ideas. Ideas nurtured in an environment better suited for the knowledge economy than the last century’s industrial centers. Since the 1950s millions of people have relocated to Florida because of the warm climate and quality of life. Floridians understand there is more to life than the grueling toil found in the Northeast and Midwest.
Tampa Bay’s unique mix of outside investors like V. M. Ybor, Henry Plant and Jeff Vinik have illustrated the power of private investment. From the resulting historic mutual aide societies and cigar factory lectores to the disruptive innovation of Wikipedia founded in St. Petersburg and the burgeoning ecosystem of social enterprise, this is a place that deeply values community. A place that understands that without community, there is no economy. As a community Tampa Bay can come together using these combined experiences to deeply understand and subsequently direct the 21st century economy.