The Democratic Party must offer a vision not only for economic fairness but for unleashing America’s productive capacity and facilitating wealth generation. And in addressing the economic disruption that COVID has caused, our party has a historic opportunity.
Americans understand that a 1980s message of tax cuts and deregulation is not adequate for 21st-century economic challenges. It will take strategic public-private partnerships to make sure semiconductors are made in our country; to produce enough masks, tests, and antiviral pills; and to open new factories and create new digital jobs in regions currently left out.
I urge my fellow Democrats to seize the mantle of being the party that builds our country’s productive capacity.
Let’s begin with semiconductors. A major source of today’s supply chain disruptions is a shortage of semiconductors, which we import in significant numbers from Taiwan and South Korea. The United States invented the semiconductor chip. We should lead the world in semiconductor manufacturing to at least meet our domestic demand. The Innovation and Competition Act provides billions for the creation of new chip manufacturing facilities, known as fabs, in our nation. Last year the Senate passed it on a bipartisan vote. The House must not delay in passing it, because expanding semiconductor manufacturing is deflationary and pro-growth.
Our country also should make the basic health care supplies needed to tackle COVID. President Biden can look to FDR’s example to mobilize our country in producing masks, tests, and antiviral pills. In 1939, our nation made 921 warplanes. In 1940, President Roosevelt said he wanted the country to produce 50,000 a year. People laughed. We soon were making 90,000 a year, because Roosevelt mobilized private industry to deliver. Similarly, President Biden can invoke the Defense Production Act, convene the leading medical equipment manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, and challenge them to deliver sufficient protective gear and antiviral pills for all Americans within three months.
Further, our federal government should aim to reindustrialize regions across America through the Federal Financing Bank, which has existed for nearly 50 years. Congress should authorize the bank to lend money or provide purchase guarantees to private-sector companies to build new products. This financing could help factories for the production of electric SUVs or advanced batteries open in places like Lordstown, Ohio, which have seen automaking plants shutter. President Biden should visit these communities to announce the loans, standing shoulder to shoulder with business and union leaders who will be the beneficiaries, showing vividly how the government is helping bring good jobs back.
Finally, looking to the future, President Biden should convene the top 20 tech leaders at the White House to present them with a simple challenge: Create 1 million new digital jobs for rural Americans and 1 million new digital jobs for Black and brown Americans by 2025. We will have 25 million digital jobs by that time in our country, and they should not all be concentrated in places like Boston, Silicon Valley, Austin, New York, and Miami. These jobs pay twice the national median. They are important pathways to prosperity and economic security. Many tech companies are going remote after the pandemic, and many of their leaders would enthusiastically respond to the president’s call to deliver the appropriate training and create these opportunities in more parts of the country.
As a firm believer in distributive justice, I am enormously proud when our party stands up for health care as a human right, child care, paid family leave, and universal preschool and postsecondary education. That’s what makes us progressives. But we need to complement our belief in giving every American a fair chance with a vision for how and what America will produce in this new century. Providing Americans with the opportunity to contribute affirms dignity. But more than that, it gives us the best chance of developing technologies to meet the climate, economic, and health care challenges that the world will face in the century ahead.
Ro Khanna is a member of Congress from Silicon Valley. This is adapted from his forthcoming book “Dignity in a Digital Age,” which will be released on Tuesday.