Latino Opinion Leaders on 2020 Presidential Election – No. 1

During January 2019, I conducted a survey for the National Institute for Latino Policy/Latino Policy Journal, that I lead as Chairman of the Board of Directors.  The idea was to repeat previous NiLP efforts, by our beloved leader Angelo Falcon, to gauge the Latino perspective about Presidential elections. This online poll of our vast network of Latino Opinion Leaders showed that none of the current crop of Democratic and Republican candidates had yet become a clear-cut favorite for 2020. While it might be too early for voters to form deep convictions about the large set of candidates running for the Democratic nomination, Latinos are just as undecided about the current Republican candidates. This means that all these candidates have a lot of work to do to raise interest and gain recognition among Latinos about why they are running as well as what policies they hope to enact. The field is very much wide open.

Table 1

Preferred Democratic Candidate for Presidential 2020 Election by Party Registration

  Democratic
Independent
Republican None “Other”
Hillary Clinton 2.2% 0.0% 0.0% 6.1% 0.0%
           
E. Warren 7.9% 12.3% 0.0% 6.1% 0.0%
           
B. Sanders 14.8% 26.5% 23.1% 24.3% 38.5%
         
K. Harris 10.8% 0.0% 0.0% 4.1% 1.5%
         
J. Biden 16.1% 22.5% 15.4% 10.2% 7.7%
         
J. Castro 13.0% 12.3% 7.7% 6.1% 0.0%
         
B. O’Rourke 20.1% 8.2% 0.0% 18.4% 7.7%
         
A. Klobucher 2.2% 2.0% 0.0% 4.1% 0.0%
         
S. Brown 4.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
         
C. Booker 1.8% 4.1% 7.7% 2.0% 0.0%
         
Others 7.9% 12.3% 46.2% 18.4% 3.1%
         
Column totals 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

Some Democratic contenders did receive more support than others. Latino Opinion Leaders did offer Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, in particular, some mild support. Surprisingly, Sanders received more support from Independent, Republican, third party, and no party Latino leaders. This may be a reflection of Sander’s 2016 presidential campaign and media attention. Joe Biden also received a similar modicum of support from Latino Leaders across the party spectrum. Beto O’Rourke got the highest support from Democratic Latino Leaders but very little from the other party members.

Prez Election 2020

The rest of the field of Democratic candidates received almost no support. Cory Booker got more support from Republican Latino Leaders than Democrats. This is a bad sign for a candidate who has focused on social justice issues rather than on economic ones. Latino leaders are not buying his pitch. And finally, we have to assume that Julian Castro remains mostly unknown to Latinos outside of Texas. He barely broke 10 percent support from Democratic and Independent Latino Leaders. What is interesting is that more than 46 percent of registered Republican Latino Leaders hope that some other Democrat runs for president. Surprisingly, a popular write-in candidate, for Republicans, was the new Democratic Congress Woman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is not yet old enough to run.

Table 2

Preferred Republican Candidate for Presidential 2020 Election by Party Registration

Democratic
Independent
Republican None “Other”
D. Trump 18.0% 23.4% 23.1% 8.0% 8.0%
           
J. Kasich 30.0% 17.2% 31.3 24.2 31.0%
           
J. Flake 15.0% 25.3 0.0% 2.0% 8.1%
         
B. Sasse 2.1% 2.0% 0.0% 2.0% 0.0%
         
T. Cruz 5.1% 2.0% 0.0% 12.1% 0.0%
         
E. McMullin 3.2% 6.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
           
Other 27.2% 25.0% 46.1% 51.3% 54.4%
           
Column totals 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

Though the total number of Republican Latino Leadersis small, it is still surprising to see that some Latino Opinion Leaders support another President Trump run for the presidency. A little more than 43 percent of Democratic and Independent Latino Leaders indicated a preference for Trump. Despite that, Republicans expressed a larger preference, at 31 percent, for Ohio Governor John Kasich. The combined Republican and Independent Latino Leader favored Kasich, however, by only 48.5 percent. This was also true for Latino Leaders with Democratic, and other party registrations. Among those Latino Leaders who expressed a preference for other candidates, Michael Bloomberg was the most frequent write-in candidate.

The vast majority of respondents to this poll were Democrats (72%)with more than one-fifth of the total respondents declaring themselves independent or with no party affiliation. That Latinos are undecided about which candidate deserves major support does not mean that they are alienated from the two major parties, however.

 

Table 2A

With Which Political Party are You Currently Registered or Affiliated?

Democratic 71.9%
Independent 12.5%
Republican 3.32%
Other Party 3.06%
None 9.18
Total 100%

Table 3 shows that very large majorities of our respondents would support the Democratic Party, if the presidential elections were held today (87%).Interestingly, a large proportion of independents would also vote for a Democrat (over 40%). Even more telling is that one-third of Republican Party members would also vote for a Democrat if the election were held today. This is, probably, a reaction to the bellicose nature of contemporary Republican Party politics in Congress as well as a reaction to the Republican who occupies the White House. Most of the polling took place during the government shutdown, engineered by Republicans, that the vast majority of Americans opposed. Independents and those without party affiliations prefer to wait until the candidate choices become settled before they decide who they will vote for (37% and 36% each).

Table 3

Support Which Party for Presidential if Election were Held Today? – by Party Registration

  Democratic Independent Republican None
Democratic 87.0% 40.1% 33.0% 41.0%
         
Republican 1.0% 3.0% 33.0% 5.0%
         
Other Party 1.0% 9.3% 0% 0.0%
         
None of the Above 0.5% 3.0% 0% 9.1%
         
Depends on Candidate 10.3% 37.0% 17.0% 36.4%
         
Not Sure 1.0% 6.0% 0.0% 5.0%
         
Other 0.0% 3.0% 17.0% 5.0%
         
Column totals 100% 100% 100% 100%

Latino Opinion Leaders may not be alienated from the two major parties. But they are also not very happy with how the two parties have responded to the Latino community. Democrats are only slightly more positive that their party is responsive (42%) compared to Republicans (40%). Democrats also think their party is not responsiveto Latino needs at similar levels (40%). Independents and those with no party affiliation appear very convinced that no party has been responsive to Latino needs (65% and 60%). Both major parties, thus, have much work to do to address this perceived neglect of the Latino community. The ambivalence that Democratic Party members showed in this question suggests that this party has been given credit for whatever they have been able to do with a Congress and, especially, with a President who are dead set opposed to any Democratic legislative and policy idea.

Table 4

Is Your Political Party Responsive to the Needs of the Latino Community – by Party Registration

  Democratic Independent Republican None
Yes 42.0% 18.0% 40.0% 24.0%
         
No 40.0% 65.0% 60.0% 48.0%
       
Don’t Know 18.0% 18.0% 0.0% 29.0%
       
Column totals 100% 100% 100% 100%

 

In a previous NiLP poll, conducted in April 2015 about the 2016 Presidential Election, only 16 percent of Democratic Party members believed that their party was responsive to Latino community needs. At the same time, only 30 percent of Latino Opinion Leaders in the Republican Party believed, in 2015, that their party was responsive to Latinos. The Democratic Party should beware. The Democratic Party cannot point to anything tangible they have done to address Latino community needs. The relatively positive response by these Latino Opinion leaders may simply reflect a comparison to the negative work of Republicans. In other words, the Democratic Party does not merit the slightly higher positive support they received in 2019 compared to 2015. This support may be an indication that Democratic Party members are more hopeful.The recent new wave of young Latino and other progressives who won surprising mid-term elections in 2018 and took over the House may be one reason. That euphoria is understandable. But it is likely not to last till the 2020 elections.

 

Methodology

This is based on respondents from the influential online national information network of the non-partisan National Institute for Latino Policy that represents a broad cross-section of Latino opinion leaders throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Leaders Survey, we poll this group from time to time on important issues facing the Latino community given this stratum’s important role in Latino agenda-setting and framing.

While the polling that is sometimes conducted on Latino issues by the media and polling organizations is of the broader community, this more select group of opinion leaders has a unique place from which to view these questions within our community. These opinion leaders include educators, media reporters, elected officials, business executives, community activists and leaders, public intellectuals, concerned madres y padres, and young people looking to improve the conditions of life for Latinos in the United States. While not a scientifically generated sample of Latino elites, we expect this survey will result in useful insights on the main issues facing the Latino community in country today. While the findings of this survey are not generalizable to the community as a whole, they represent the views of an influential set of opinion leaders within this community who help set the framework for its issues and priorities. These findings should be seen more as a heuristic device, as one might take the results of a focus group.

The Latino Policy Report is an online information service provided by the Latino Policy Journal, an off-shoot of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), edited by Jose R. Sanchez. For further information, visit http://www.latinopolicy.org or contact editor@latinopolicy.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2020 Presidential election will be here sooner than we think. The National Institute for Latino Policy, an organization whose board of directors I chair, is conducting an online poll to see who Latinos prefer become candidates for the presidency in 2020. The final results are not yet in. But one preliminary result is very interesting. Latino influentials appear to be very pessimistic about the direction of recent American politics.

NiLP Poll Prez 2020 Q7

Almost 85 percent of this set of Latino influentials believe that American politics is moving downwards. The poll is not complete and I have not yet analyzed why they think this way. But perhaps this pessimism is due to recent poor economic trends for the Latino, African American, and working class Americans?Two research papers, I came across recently, suggest this.

One piece is an essay by Lynn Parramore titled “America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People.” This article is based on the new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT. The gist of the research is that about 20 percent of the American population are thriving. They consist of what Temin calls “the ‘FTE sector,’ those who work for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth”.  The other 80 percent of the population consists of people “who are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present.”

Given what we know about the Latino population in the United States, it is safe to assume that Latinos fall mostly into that desperate, lower 80 percent tier. Another recent research paper seems to confirm that suspicion. In an article, titled “The Decline of African-American and Hispanic Wealth since the Great Recession.”  Edward Wolff summarizes his own pivotal research from his book, A Century of Wealth in America (2017).  Rather than measuring inequality by focusing on the more volatile short time category of income, Wolff examined actual wealth (homeownership, bank savings, stocks and mutual funds, IRAs and 401(k)s, unincorporated businesses, as well as Social Security and defined benefit (DB) wealth. These calculations provide a better picture of a household’s economic status and security. Adequate accumulated wealth permit households to overcome temporary job losses, health emergencies, and make educational investments. I think that Wolff’s Research can help explain what has politically motivated Latinos and others in this country since 2008.

inequality_I_left_you_half

A major discovery is that Latino households and African American households suffered very dramatic declines in household wealth since 2008. In particular, Wolff states that,

“Hispanic households made sizeable gains on whites from 1983 to 2007. The ratio of standard mean net worth grew from 0.16 to 0.26, the Hispanic homeownership rate climbed from 33 to 49%, and the ratio of homeownership rates with white households advanced from 48 to 66%. However, in a reversal of fortunes, Hispanic households got hammered in the years 2007 to 2010, with their mean net worth plunging in half, the wealth ratio falling from 0.26 to 0.15, their homeownership rate down by 1.9%, and their net home equity plummeting by 47%. The relative (and absolute) losses suffered by Hispanic households over these three years were also mainly due to the much larger share of homes in their wealth portfolio and their much higher leverage.”

In essence, Latino households were hammered by the 2008 recession and by the government response under Bush and Obama. Whatever increasing parities in wealth they had experienced prior to 2008 completely disappeared afterwards. Latinos May have jobs, or multiple jobs, today. But they have lost massive amounts of wealth since 2008. These economic declines are likely to impact not only the Latino community’s sense of hope, their likelihood of investing in education, their interest in occupational migration, but also their views of government spending and political leadership.

This is no doubt a very complex phenomenon. Hopefully, The final results of this poll will help produce a healthy debate in the Latino community that can help us make better decisions about what we need as a community and who we should support for President.

We will try to tease apart these issues as we go forward with our analysis of the 2020 Presidential Poll. If you have not yet participated in the poll, please do so now by going to this link!

Stay tuned!

 

Much of the polarized debate on undocumented immigrants in the U.S. springs from emotional and tribal fears. But that tribal outlook is not just about fear. Ironically, it also about hope.

Although far from a majority, a large portion of the U.S. population wants to make it more difficult for immigrants to enter this country. They also want to send those who are here, with and without papers, back to their ancestral homes. There is fear and hopelessness in these responses. Disappearing jobs and stagnant wages have made some Americans into extremists. They are willing to think of the worse as they hope for the best. This is true even for those who came here as immigrants, or are themselves people of color, or who may also agree that the undocumented are hard-working and make a lot of contributions to this country. None of this matters any longer.

For many Americans, the undocumented are simple “lawbreakers.” They don’t care if these young immigrants have dreams. They resent the fact that their own dreams have no way of becoming true. So, they hope to dash the dreams of the undocumented. Yes there is resentment, racism, and bitterness there. But it is more.

Deep inside, most of these deniers believe that they are righting the scales of justice. The Dreamers may be hardworking, young, and innocent. But they are still lawbreakers and deserve to be punished. This punitive action is not likely to make their own dreams come true. But it will satisfy a thirst for some kind of justice.

For Joe Kleve, 21, a senior at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, the argument that the young immigrants had been brought by their parents held no weight.

What if someone’s parents were caught sneaking their whole family into a movie without paying, he asked. “Are they going to just kick the parents out?”

For Mr. Pham, 39, the issue was personal. He, too, arrived in the United States as a toddler, as a legally admitted refugee from Vietnam. But until his family could find American sponsors, they were parked in a refugee camp overseas for more than a year.(NY Times “Most Americans Want Legal Status for ‘Dreamers.’ These People Don’t.” January 25, 2018)

daca-protest-trump-immigration-ap-mem-170905_12x5_992

They want justice against those they hold responsible for their losses. They don’t blame the titans of industry or the politicians, of both parties. It’s the Dreamers they accuse. These young people whose early lives were spent at the bottom rungs of this society as marginal and utter dregs in a fast flowing and increasingly unequal plutocratic country. But why this relatively small, deprived, and non-threatning group of young immigrants?

It’s because the Dreamers now have educational and professional achievements to their name. They have the temerity to show that huge obstacles can be surmounted. These Dreamers were seemingly able to brush off discrimination, poverty, and segregation and move upwards and so easily through the maze of globalized job losses and occupational hazards that thwart the dream-deniers. They hate that the Dreamers could overcome. The last thing deniers want to do is to bring Dreamers over the finish line by giving them legal status too.

This is why DACA supporters are making a mistake by suggesting that support for these young people is a kind of moral test. Yes, they were brought here as innocent young people. But that innocence doesn’t touch a significant sector of despondent Americans of many races and immigration status. Those who want them out are not persuaded by the economic contributions DACA young people have and will make to this country.

Not all of these deniers are nativists or racists. But most of them simply don’t want to see this country work for others. This is what Make America Great Again means to a lot of them. Perhaps this country cannot be kept white. But they aim for a future that can suddenly become positive and hopeful for them, without Dreamers. Perhaps, just perhaps, those well-paying and stable jobs Dreamers have or aspire to will again become available to them if ICE can push them out.

This all sounds dystopic and sad. There appears to be no easy way out of this penurious and delusional reaction to Dreamers. But it does not have to be. It’s possible to imagine a different, more realistic, and positive path. But to get there, DACA supporters will have to change their strategy. The goal should not be to continue the claim that Dreamers are not only innocent but hard working and successful. That just irritates too many Americans who see themselves as being equally hard working yet not as successful in education or jobs as the Dreamers. Latinos and Dreamers must appeal to the American sense of fairness and justice.

These young Latinos were brought to America by their parents. But their parents did not decide to go to America voluntarily. Their parents were encouraged and pushed to leave their country. This must be part of the messaging. Each Latino sender country has a history of American corporations buying up huge tracts of agricultural land and leaving campesinos, the Dreamer’s parents, without any real economic options to survive in their own countries. NAFTA institutionalized this process. The impact NAFTA has had on Mexican agriculture is largely responsible for the Mexican and Central American undocumented migration into the U.S.

NAFTA_s Vicious Cycle

The stories we tell to support the Dreamers should be about their parents. The parents may be guilty of sneaking into this country. But they are also victims of corporate avarice and economic domination…in their own country. They were economically battered, pushed out, and, as a result, had to sneak into the U.S. This is a story of loss that many American workers, even dream-deniers, may understand.

Dream-deniers have also been victimized by bank foreclosures, globalization, and job lay-offs. Many corporations have also come out publicly against Trump policies and actions, like the Muslim ban. Trump supporters and corporations are not necessarily clear allies. Trump and his supporters are more likely economic nationalists and authoritarian statists. Now, it’s likely that the dream-deniers will respond, like Trump, by also denying that U.S. corporations and government have ever done anything wrong in Latin America or anywhere else in the world. Yet Trump has also provided a possible conceptual bridge between the two.

Trump recently connected the Dreamers to white American deniers who feel dispossessed and hurt by the global economy. In Trump’s 2018 state of the union speech, he proclaimed “Above all else, we must remember that young Americans have dreams, too.” This statement, in a sober but largely incoherent speech, shows that Trump is crafty and very aware that the word “Dreamers” represents a beautiful “marketing coup” designed by Latino and Democratic leaders.

The word Dreamer gives undocumented youth a veneer of innocence and vulnerability that is difficult to attack. Trump’s goal was to take the word Dreamer back from Mexicans and Latinos and connect it, instead, to those Americans who want to deny Dreamers any sanctuary and any legal path to remain in the U.S.  Trump sought to make the deniers pure, innocent, and hopeful.

Latino leaders should accept Trump’s inversion of the word. Accept and invert it once more. Make American deniers into Dreamers who, like Latino Dreamers and parents, have also suffered at the hands of corporate and government elites who don’t have their interests at heart. But do so by linking the political economy of Latino undocumented flight into this country to the political economy of middle class and working class job and wage losses in the last 40 years.

Not all Trump supporters are nativists who simply want to whiten the country and keep non-white people from living in the U.S. And polls continue to show overwhelming public support for legal status for Dreamers. The latest poll shows 84% of Americans support granting legal status. But we don’t have to change how all deniers see the true Dreamers. Getting this done really means getting Congress to support Dreamers too.

What stops Congress from supporting Dreamers? First, there are the gerrymandered districts, full of the small percentage of anti-immigrant extremists, that elected so many of them into office. Those nativist extremists won’t forgive such betrayal. And Congress is hated so much by the American public, only 18% approval in the latest poll, that they have to hitch their wagon to the slightly more popular but legally vulnerable Trump.

This conceptual slight of hand may even turn the tables on Trump. It may get him to support this linkage between the Dreamers and his erstwhile “dreaming” supporters. I don’t think we can wait until the next redistricting maps (after 2020) or for a Democratically controlled Congress to change the policy on immigrants. Waiting will not protect Dreamers or Latinos from the rising nativist tide of violence and oppression.

The existential threats are immediate and palpable for Dreamers and Latinos in general. Changing the conversation, words, and perception of what Dreamers represent is a necessary first step. It may create the critical geographic and popular support that can sway Congress to support Dreamers. It may also help protect Latinos from the growing anti-immigrant and nativist movement that is already resulting in deadly physical attacks against Latinos, Dreamers and non-dreamers alike.

It’s time for Latino leaders to swing for a home-run rather than for a single. Dreamers, Latinos, and other working Americans can be saved only by making the case that capitalism cannot solve the problems caused by capitalism. The case against trade is that it is not only bad for the American working class, it is also bad for the working classes in Latin America too. Establish a class alliance to make support for Dreamers possible. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But none of the strategies being pursued now are likely to deliver legal status to the millions of Latinos here without papers.

A lot of what perplexes us about conditions of inequality and economic failures can be better understood if we recognized how much of our hunting/gathering life we bring to contemporary society.

For the first 140,000 years that modern humans have existed, we all lived as hunter gatherers. We shared everything we produced with each other, reinforced egalitarian principles, lived in relative harmony, and no authority figure could tell us what to do. We also lived in small groups of about 100-150 people. Our society was small enough then that lazy or selfish people were quickly identified and shamed into behaving or expelled from the group.

Today, about 20,000 or so years removed from hunter/gathering days, almost all of us live in enormous societies with millions of other, mostly unknown, people. This makes it impossible to live in the primitive socialism of hunter and gatherers. The state, as in Cuba, may try to force a “plan” on everyone and to check non-social behavior. But all it does is to suffocate freedom, produce inefficiently, and generally fail to check anti-social behavior. The solution, as most Northern European countries have discovered, is a judicious combination of capitalist markets and state regulation.

Click on this to see video: Cuban economy

IMG_0877

 

Identity is not the cause of political polarization. It’s emotions. Some people are terrified and disgusted by the demographic and economic trends in this country. They retreat to racial and other tribal identities to feel more secure.

But pundits like Fareed Zakaria want to blame identity for the political polarization that dominates the U.S. and Europe. They have it all wrong. In a recent article, Zakaria stated that

Partisanship today is more about identity. Scholars Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued that, in the past few decades, people began to define themselves politically less by traditional economic issues than by identity — gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. I would add to this mix social class, something rarely spoken of in the United States but a powerful determinant of how we see ourselves. Last year’s election had a lot to do with social class, with non-college-educated rural voters reacting against a professional, urban elite

It’s always about group membership, however. This is true whether the group is identity-politicsneighborhood, gender, racial, religious, or ideological. The question is who’s included and how important is that identity to your feelings of self worth and security.

We like to believe that people are driven by reason and deliberation. Most research suggests that this is not true. We have a natural talent, if not a need, to socialize. But our socializing skills and nature have a hard time stretching beyond about 100-150 people. This is the number of people that most hunting and gathering people lived with during the majority of our stay on this earth. This is also about the limit of FB “friends” that we can justly call friends. Though even this is probably stretching it. The creation of state society came with many compromises. We tend to think that the biggest compromise was the limit on individual freedom. We say that we gave up our individual rights in order to secure personal security and progress. But we also lost our our ability to live with and navigate our interactions with people that we knew well and trusted.

Today, everyone, except for some remaining hunting and gathering societies, live in enormous societies with multiple millions of other people. How do we connect to and make sense of all those other people? What do we know about them? How do we trust and communicate with them? The simple answer is that we can’t. It is for this reason that Benedict Anderson once called our efforts to form a national identity as something we imagine.

We think we belong to a “nation” with millions of others. But this is a fiction we believe and only very tenuously. States, nevertheless, see a need to promote national identities as a way of bolstering obedience. The problem is, as we have seen in the Middle East and America, that not everyone believes they belong to what others see as their fictional “nation.”

Right after 9/11, most people in these states believed they belonged to an American Nation. Everyone felt they were attacked by the terrorists…white, black, Asian, Latino, gay, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. They believed, rightly, that everyone shared a common fate. Not more than 10 months after 9/11, we again returned to a country of hyphenated Americans. Why? Because segregation, discrimination, police brutality, and much else, continued to define how they lived. It reminded people that not everyone shared in a common ‘American’ fate or identity.

Thus, it is not that some people glorify separate identities out of thin air. People are drawn to identity politics when they feel like their lives are not shared with others, when they do not share in one common national fate. It is the reality of living very different lives that creates identity. It forces people to try a self-identification with smaller groups, groups that they believe are more likely to secure their self worth and security.

Offense generator

A friend at a mid-size, private, second-tier university recently posted this lament,

“When I started speaking out aggressively in defense of public school teachers eight years ago, based on what I saw in the Bronx where school closings, uncontrolled testing and the demonization of teachers was squeezing creativity out of the schools, I knew, in theory, that professors would eventually become a target of similar policies, but I didn’t think Fordham would be one of those places where the attack took place. Well, I was wrong Fordham’s attempts to resist unionization of adjuncts and decimate the health care benefits of tenure track faculty should be a wake up call for anyone who still believes they are protected by ” the Ivy Tower.”. Any college professor who thinks that efforts to destabilize public education and de professionalize public education has nothing to do with them needs to wake up and smell the cappuchino. Every attack on the autonomy, living standards, health benefits and pensions of public school teachers is going to eventually come home to the universities. For college professors, whether adjuncts or tenure track, there is “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide” They came for the public school teachers. Now they are coming for you…”

Teachers and professors have to be worried. The corporatization, automation, and austerity budgeting of the teaching professor is taking steam. Eventually, no teacher except for those at the very elite schools will be spared. But it’s important to know why these things are happening. I believe the reason is not that administrators are crass, bureaucratic, authoritarian fools. They may very well be some or all of these things. But the major reason for this attempt to radically reshape education comes from the contradictions of capitalist production.

Education is becoming unmoored from national capitalist economies. A trained, skilled, and professional workforce is becoming a far less important concern for individual nation-states. If our corporations need computer coders, they can find them in India and Africa for far lower wages. If they need sports news writers, they can get good results by sending, through the Internet, the bare facts of the sports event to a writer in Ireland who shapes it into a story worth printing. And that Irish reporter is paid less too.

Education has become unmoored from national economic needs. It used to be that the titans of industry in the U.S. believed it was in their economic interest to make sure that American workers were better educated. Thus philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie contributed to the expansion of public libraries begun by towns and labor groups as a way of educating the public. But today, there are few business leaders who have devoted their wealth to such broad educational purposes, in this country. And both conservatives and liberals seem determined to radically transform education in a way that makes it less educational and less expensive.

Any work that can be codified and subject to algorithms will probably be automated. So, accounting will go but financial advice will not. This makes the benefits of liberal arts education even more important than it’s ever been. Critical thinking, good communication skills, and the ability to collaborate is what will make people employable in this new automated economy.

But a world with more and more jobs performed by computers and robots will mean fewer and fewer jobs where liberal arts skills are prioritized. And that means that there will be a fierce competition for those jobs. The question then becomes, who will have those jobs? Will they go primarily to white men of upper class background? As it stands now, universities like LIU and Fordham will be under assault by these abstract and structural forces, but the ivies most likely are not. The question for students today is ‘Who will have access to those elite critical thinking positions in the future?’ That is what makes places like CUNY, LIU, and Fordham so important. That is where immigrants, women, minorities, and working class people can acquire the education to challenge the monochromatic elite that relies on a ‘meritocracy’ and on liberal arts education to manage and lead in this emerging automated economy.

franklin-institute-robots-baxter-daryl-peveto-940x540

We are not yet able to replace most jobs with computers and robots.

Robots have a limited ability to perceive and reason about their surroundings.  Computers have made huge advances in automating those human tasks that can be well described by a set of rules.  But, despite continuing advances in AI, the challenges of applying computers and robots to tasks requiring flexibility, judgment, and common sense are still quite large. 

The reason is that our actions are guided by two very different kinds of knowledge.  Explicit knowledge is formal, codified, and can be readily explained to people and captured in a computer program.   Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is the kind of knowledge we are often not aware we have, and is therefore difficult to transfer to another person, let alone to a machine.  Tacit knowledge is generally learned through personal interactions and practical experiences.  Everyday examples include speaking a language, riding a bike, driving a car, and easily recognizing many different objects and animals.” 

But the push in the modern capitalist economy is to replace humans. Machines don’t get sick, need vacation or health benefits, and can work around the clock.  Thus, we have little time. While we wait for these things to happen, we should minimize the impact on our ways of life and on social equity. More machine-based work should mean that we humans benefit from greater productivity and wealth. Those surpluses should be used to make our lives better. We should work a lot less than we do now and enjoy those economic benefits more broadly in society. And we should make sure that those who rise to the remaining high education jobs, that will command this robotic economy, are representative of our diverse society. Anything less will make these emerging automatizing trends a true nightmare. The battlefield in this war between robots and humans begins with a fierce competition for the remaining, elite, critical thinking jobs.

The key is that whether computers and robots take most of our jobs sooner rather than much later, the struggle to define who will feel the brunt of this economic revolution is beginning to take place now…in the university. The corporatization of the university represents a tangled struggle, on one side, with those who want to educate everyone to become critical thinkers, able to judge and take action about these economic changes. On the other side are those who see no reason to “waste” precious resources on those who have not “need” or “ability” to reach those stratified heights. The latter are working class, minority, and immigrant students who should be happy to accept careers as technicians in this economy rather than as leaders and judges of how the economy can best move forward. Better to train them for jobs as bookkeepers, retail sales and health technologists, even if those jobs are likely to disappear. They have little support for giving that population an education they can only use to lead in this new automated economy as well as to challenge the accepted public agenda that there is very little we can do to ensure life is just and equitable for all.

Probability that robots will take jobs

Not all the players in this struggle have a firm and conscious understanding of what lies ahead. They are not meeting behind closed doors to coordinate their efforts. But they most certainly have bought into Neo-liberal austerity policies, whose bony hands land heaviest and most destructively on the working classes and minority population. They are also more likely to accept the idea that the automation of the economy is not only inevitable but one whose impact is impossible to soften with public policy.