3 Ways Hillary Clinton Can Inspire Americans Without a College Degree

3 Ways Hillary Clinton Can Inspire Americans Without a College Degree

3 Ways Hillary Clinton Can Inspire Americans Without a College Degree

Does she really believe we’re “stronger together”? Here’s how she can prove it.


Yes, Hillary Clinton has trouble connecting with white men without a college degree—not all, of course, but a whopping number of them. How to pull them away from Trump? Free college won’t work; it’s too late for them. National health insurance? I wish, but it’s not clear they’re that interested. But they do worry about globalization. To get their attention, here are three things she can say that Trump cannot.1

First, she can say that if elected, she will push for the right of working people—yes, even high-school grads—to elect one another to some of our biggest corporate boards. Let a few high-school grads be in the boardroom when the big investment decisions are made. Yes, do it the way it’s done in Germany, a country that has a much bigger percentage of its employees in the manufacturing of things. Germany is also, not coincidentally, running a huge trade surplus, and partly at our expense. And nothing distinguishes their capitalism from ours more starkly than the fact that high-school grads are sitting in the boardrooms of their big global companies. Clinton might say: “Enough with Trump being your voice—why don’t you be your voice?” After all, Trump would never let a high-school grad sit on his corporate boards.2

In Germany, it’s called co-determination, and it works just fine over there: In companies with more than 2,000 workers, they elect half the directors of the board. And in companies with more than 1,000, employees still elect a third.3

But that’s impossible here, right? A GOP-controlled House would never allow it, right? Here’s what Hillary could say: “Look, I probably can’t get Congress to put it into law, but I can say that, if I am president, companies with workers on the boards will get preference in federal contracts.”4

Would that be overreaching—further than she is allowed to go under the federal procurement laws? Well, if she can pick the next justice, the Supreme Court will let her do it. The four center-left justices now are very friendly to Obama-type uses of executive power.5

If Clinton were to do this, it wouldn’t be an iron rule, just a nudge, limited to federal contracts. In this way, she can still be Hillary: She raises a big new idea that is both transformational and incremental.6

And it would change the conversation from trade treaties like NAFTA, where she looks bad. Indeed, why don’t we change the conversation from trade deficits with people of color? The obsession with NAFTA turns what should be a class issue into an ethnic/race issue. Trump has been brilliant at combining the two. By its obsession with NAFTA, the left has done its part to create Donald Trump. How many realize that we run a bigger trade deficit with Germany than with Mexico? It’s not just a bigger deficit but a nastier one—billions reflected not in low-wage but high-wage jobs. I need not mention Canada, Japan, and other high-wage countries that inflict deficits as well. But since Germany and Canada are “white,” it’s hard to make a race issue out of that. Those deficits never get a mention. If Germany inflicts a bigger deficit than Mexico, maybe our response should be to learn from the invader—by putting workers on corporate boards, and in general by giving working people a voice. Maybe countries like Germany out-compete us because they understand the principle of inclusion: If stakeholder companies compete better, it’s because they have more people making decisions.7

That would be a wonderful thing for Clinton or any Democrat to say: that to be globally competitive, we actually need these high-school grads sitting on corporate boards. Here’s a wild claim: High-school grads actually know things, but with our Trump-like corporate model, we shut them out. Germany—where they at least have a voice—is not just running up a big deficit with us. It’s stealing customers around the world, customers that we might have, if we had a different corporate model.8

Of course, we have constraints, including an always overvalued dollar. As long as the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, it will always be overvalued. Still, it would help to give working people some say over how we invest our capital. It’s at least one way that German workers can inoculate themselves against the worst aspects of globalization. No, as a German labor officer on a corporate board once said, we don’t stop the outsourcing of capital, but we place “conditions, conditions, conditions.” Open a plant in country X, but then do something back in the home country, too.9

One more point to rouse Americans without college degrees: No, you don’t have to be a union officer or a union member to be on one of these boards. Anyone—the person who waters the plants in the bank lobby—can be elected to it.10

But is it too radical for Hillary Clinton? Come on: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is for it. The UK’s new prime minister, Theresa May, just shocked her Tory colleagues by coming out for it. So Clinton has plenty of cover, at least from the women chieftains of the world. Besides, sooner or later, it’s in Clinton’s interest to take the side of workers in some astonishing way against our country’s discredited elite.11

It’s also time for her to rouse us with a new national goal: to get us out of this humiliating trade debt, which it seems only the United States and the Great Britain, the free-market models, have to such a crippling degree. Other high-wage or rich countries—just as globally exposed as we are, or more so—don’t run deficits. If they can run surpluses, why can’t we?12

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But to protect people from globalization, we have to do more than change our corporate model. That’s the second thing Clinton has to hammer away at: We need more public works, giving jobs to those without college degrees. And while Trump is in favor of public works, here’s an issue on which I think Clinton is more credible than Trump. And it’s also where we could do more to protect our high-school grads than the Germans now do. After all, the Germans are obsessed with fiscal austerity and notoriously refuse to do public works.14

We are speaking here of massive public works, as Clinton has in fact proposed. While Trump can make promises, he can’t deliver. It’s a con. For one thing, he’s already committed to cutting taxes. It’s where, as a populist, he differs from Russia’s Putin or France’s Marine Le Pen, neither of whom would cut taxes on the scale Trump would. With his enormous cuts, we’d have enormous budget deficits. We would be so deep in the hole we couldn’t even fill the potholes in the streets.15

Wouldn’t he borrow the money? Come on! This is Donald Trump, the king of bankruptcy. Every respectable bank in the country has cut him off. Even the more sensible Trump supporters wouldn’t lend money to Donald Trump. Besides, he has to placate the GOP in Congress: Do you know of any Republican congressional leader in favor of massive spending on public works?16

I know that, to many, Clinton’s talk of the “biggest public-works program since World War II” sounds like a snooze. But that might just be what ends the long-term stagnation of the economy. Take a look at Robert Gordon’s recent tome, The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Although the book’s revelation is how much innovation matters, there is another revelation—how much massive government spending in the 1940s stimulated the efficient use of capital and skills. Buying up virtually all the output of the economy during World War II is what created the Big Bang that made America great. And because the government was buying up all the output, that’s partly how the New Deal got so many more people into unions in the 1940s. In a way, public works, Hillary’s way, could be a kind of labor-law reform, more or less forcing people into unions the way the government once did in time of war.17

It’s true that the Republicans are likely to hang on to control of the House. So to rouse the country into accepting that a public-works program is even possible, Hillary has to pledge—and can plausibly pledge—to do everything she can to get rid of gerrymandering. She might say that if she’s elected, the Justice Department will sue to overturn gerrymandering—all gerrymandering—under the 14th Amendment, and maybe as violations of the Elections Clause under Article I. She’d have a very good shot at flipping the Supreme Court, to win that very case. That would at least partly unclench the grip of the GOP on the republic. And she should make clear that she will file lawsuits challenging not just Republican but also Democratic gerrymandering in all the remaining states that, unlike California, have yet to ban it. Yes, let her rouse the country by taking on the Democrats, too. I can’t think of anything that would do more to excite people in this country about her campaign than to say that the nonpartisan redistricting put in place by voters in California ought to be, in a constitutional sense, the law of the land.18

Then and only then—with gerrymandering gone—can any candidate deliver. Then and only then will we get the public-works projects that both high-school grads and the rest of us deserve. I know it would take a lot of nerve for her to say all this—but at this point in the campaign, she has everything to gain by taking on not only the GOP’s but her own party’s elite, and tying it to public works. That’s her best hope to change the way people think about her.19

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Third, unlike Trump, Hillary can promise to use the welfare state to make us more competitive. How? Consider what would happen if we expanded Social Security. If we get more workers over age 65 to retire, instead of hanging on because they lack a decent private pension, we could employ more middle-aged and young workers now sitting at home, or promote them sooner. We need the government to assume more of the private sector’s “non-wage” labor costs. There are yet other examples where the welfare state could make us more competitive: Expand Medicare to workers between ages 55 and 65, so employers can stop avoiding payment for working people who have higher skills. Or have a fair federal system of worker compensation, instead of states’ using it to bid against each other. Or have the federal government offer to take over state Medicaid in those states that promise to use the savings for public education and worker training. And isn’t publicly funded childcare a way of ensuring that we use human capital more efficiently instead of trapping highly educated women at home?21

These are three ways Hillary Clinton can rouse the country—and go bigger than Trump ever can. But most of all, she has to show she can flip a finger at the elite. Does she really believe we are “stronger together”? Then let’s do what the Germans do. Let’s go after one-person, Trump-like CEO rule. After all, if she doesn’t win, we all may end up working in casinos.22

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