Here’s the good news about China’s emergence as the world’s second largest economy — US business has figured it out. And here’s the bad news — while US companies can go global, most US citizens can’t. The result, in this age of globalization, is a growing tension between the interests of America’s business leaders and the interests of much of its middle class. Indeed, the most important fault-line in American politics may not be between Democrats and Republicans, it is between those businesses and business people who are succeeding in the global economy and those who are not.
This clash of values and interests up-ends our usual ideas of left and right. Consider immigrants — it is no accident that Mike Bloomberg and Silicon Valley’s bosses are squarely on the side of the lower Manhattan mosque and of liberal immigration laws. But CEOs are less thrilled about the Democrat-driven imposition of more regulation and the promise of higher taxes.
The irony is that the globalization of American business is surely a good thing — imagine how much worse things would be if US companies hadn’t figured out how to play and win on the world stage. But the equally important truth is that the twin revolutions of globalization and technological change are disproportionately benefiting the global super-class and the middle class in emerging markets like China and India — while leaving much of America behind. America’s business leaders need to figure out how to help America’s middle class join the global economic party — or face a populist backlash which will make Barack Obama look like Milton Friedman.