Saturday, April 21, 2012

Obama And Talent Economy

Federal politics are incoherent. The White House often promotes two policies heading in opposite directions. Making everyone happy is hard work. I don't have that problem. First up, President Obama touting the Talent Economy in Tampa:

He outlined a new initiative to better connect the hemisphere’s small businesses, provide export counseling to America’s small and medium-size firms, and expand Web sites that help international businesses find customers and other information.

Part of the program, known as the Small Business Network of the Americas, seeks to encourage companies within the various Latin American and Caribbean immigrant communities in the United States and connect them to markets abroad.

Obama announced more than $250 million in grants and loan guarantees for those “diaspora entrepreneurs” — made in part through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — as part of the program.

“A lot of the countries of the region are on the rise,” Obama said of Latin America, adding that millions of people have emerged from poverty in the last decade. “They’ve got more money to spend and we want them spending money on American-made goods.”

India and China are yawning. The United States has to start somewhere. The paths of international migrants are the roads of global commerce. Got immigrants? Start trading with fast growing markets.

At a smaller scale (i.e. domestically), the Obama Administration appears to be myopic. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appealing to rural voters:

He repeated a previous call to vastly improve teacher pay (up to $150,000 in an ideal scenario) and add incentives for teachers taking jobs in hard-to-staff areas, such as rural schools. “If we don’t elevate the profession, I think we put a real cap on what we can accomplish,” Duncan said.

While the idea of six-figure salaries might seem unfeasible in the current economic climate, Vilsack encouraged state and local leaders to present a number of White House initiatives as a total package for recruiting potential educators. He pointed to the home ownership programs and student loan forgiveness proposals sponsored by the administration as examples of what could be included. Facilitating the purchase of a home and financial stability through those programs allows teachers to “root” themselves in the community, Vilsack said, which then addresses the problem of retaining good teachers.

“We’ve got to look beyond compensation,” he said. “We need to think creatively about how we can create a package to encourage” teachers to stay in rural areas.

Rooting talent in a community is an Industrial Era concept. In today's Talent Economy, such approaches will do more harm than good. Vilsack's narrative is confused. A la Richard Florida, you can't tell if he's talking about retention or attraction. That's because plugging the brain drain sells. It gets votes. Vilsack has been around this block a few times as Governor of Iowa. The active ingredient in the proposal is attraction, "recruiting".

I've been around this block a few times myself. The program won't work. All the suggestions have been tried before and failed. Vilsack is touting a classic brain drain boondoggle. Even in Tampa, Obama is stumping for votes. I think the "diaspora entrepreneurs" idea can work. It already works. That may be why the White House is embracing it. Success preceding policy is a smart move.

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