Globalization and American discontent

The Wall Street Journal's David Wessel thinks there are four big economic issues for the next US President:

1. The budget deficit.
2. Health care.
3. Inequality.
4. Globalization

Wessel argues that the issue of globalization can be partially resolved by dealing with the first three issues, particularly health care and inequality:

The solution doesn't lie in tweaking trade laws (though they could use tweaking) or in applying band aids to an archaic, inefficient system of assisting laid-off workers (though that system needs replacing). It probably lies in assuring Americans that they aren't fending for themselves in an increasingly competitive economy -- that their health insurance won't evaporate if they lose a job and that the U.S.'s schools are preparing their children to succeed.

Robert Hormats and Jim O'Neill, vice-chairman and head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs International, add education to Wessel's list. In today's Financial Times, they argue that to cope with a new global economy in which Brazil, Russia, India and China are all increasingly competitive, "the challenge for the next President is to help more Americans derive greater benefits from globalization. Hormats and O'Neill want to see a "robust response" in the development of American intellectual and environmental infrastructure:

A robust response requires vastly improved training and education, especially in mathematics, engineering, physics and science. More than ever this must benefit minorities and immigrants, the fastest-growing portion of the US workforce. Critical also is acceleration of government and private-sector investment in research and development to create competitive new jobs, products and industries. This is especially true in energy, where a variety of new sources and new technologies are urgently needed: such measures can produce increased employment opportunities, reduce oil dependence and the attendant massive outflows of funds, and sharply curb greenhouse gas emissions. The financial system and tax code must encourage greater domestic savings and investment, and channel funds to the most productive sectors.

Which of the candidates are best positioned to respond robustly to the cultural and economic perils of globalization?  Unfortunately, McCain seems less of a hostage to reactionary economic nationalists than Obama. As Clinton did in 1992, Obama needs to frame a radical centrist message which focuses on rebuilding American intellectual and environmental infrastructure. The children at the Daily Kos and MoveOn.org won't like this message, of course. But unless Obama pursues this innovation friendly strategy, he is likely to be a hostage of economic nationalists when he comes to office. And that would mean globalization continuing to fuel American discontent rather than curing it.