Just over a year ago, PPI unveiled a big ideas blueprint with a prescient subtitle: Unleashing Innovation and Growth: A Progressive Alternative to Populism. We knew that progressives in the United States and Europe needed better answers to the economic and cultural grievances that have fueled the rise of a retrograde populism and nationalism around the world. We did not foresee that Democrats would fail to offer a forward-looking plan for jobs and shared growth, opening the door to Donald Trump’s improbable victory.
Which makes the themes and ideas in PPI’s sweeping policy blueprint more important than ever. Populism today thrives in the political vacuum left by center-left parties that offer no clear vision for reviving economic dynamism and hope. “Winning the economic argument will be essential to victory in the 2016 elections and it starts by getting the diagnosis right,” the blueprint noted. Instead, Democrats ran a campaign that leaned heavily on identity politics, wealth redistribution and centralized, small-bore solutions.
Unleashing argued that America (and Europe) are stuck in a slow-growth trap that holds down wages and living standards. And it offered bold prescriptions for building on America’s competitive advantage in technology and entrepreneurship to spread innovation – now concentrated in a vibrant digital sector — to the nation’s physical economy, which continues to suffer from low productivity. In addition, the document proposed creative ways to modernize the nation’s economic infrastructure, improve the regulatory environment for innovation, build middle class wealth and empower poor Americans to work, save and chart their own course to social mobility and inclusion.
Crucially, the blueprint also urged progressives to reject anger and victimhood and offer voters a confident account for how America can build a new, inclusive prosperity:
What America needs is a forward-looking plan to unleash innovation, stimulate productive investment, groom the world’s most talented workers, and put our economy back on a high-growth path, It’s time to banish fear and pessimism and trust instead in the liberal and individualist values and enterprising culture that have always made America great.
That was the road not taken in 2016. Now it’s the road to political relevance and success for progressives here and elsewhere.