When Americans peer ahead into the future, the most consequential question we ask is about jobs: in a world in which manufacturing jobs won’t support an affluent middle class and in which many professional jobs will be transformed by automation, how will most Americans make a living, and what will keep the middle class afloat?
A conventional, widely shared view informs the way that blue America looks at that future. This view holds that the death of industrial society means the death of the mass middle class. When millions of people can’t make a living “making stuff” in factories anymore, wages for the unskilled will fall. America will be increasingly polarized between a small group of high skilled creative professionals and a larger group scavenging a living by serving them: mowing their lawns, catering their parties and so on.
Those who think that the blue model needs to be preserved and extended into the future (including, I think, our current president and most of his top allies and advisors), tend to think that under those conditions we will both need and be able to afford an ever-more active redistributive state. The tycoons and the very successful minority will be so rich, thanks to their continuing gains from globalization and technological change, that they can pay progressively higher taxes to fund basic services and middle class jobs for enough of the rest of the country that something like a middle class society can be preserved. From this perspective, a government-funded health care system is more than a method of delivering health care: it is a way of providing protected, blue-model type jobs when the factories have mostly disappeared. In general, from this perspective you wouldn’t worry about the growth of public employment compared to jobs growth in the private sector; a highly productive private sector might employ fewer and fewer people to generate the wealth that would sustain the larger but much less productive public sector.