I cannot remember having ever agreed with Time’s Joe Klein on anything substantive, until his article published November 5, 2012 (Klein, 2012). Klein was speculating on a then-possible Romney election, Romney’s apparent move to the center, and the views of neoconservatives. Klein suggested that Romney’s sinusoidal positioning on issues would have been more disastrous with an informed electorate, rather than the current “overworked, overstimulated” (Klein, 2012, p. 23) electorate of the 2012 United States.
In “The Other Approaching Cliff” (Bryan, 2012), I wrote about the deterioration in the United States of the pillars of democracy: a free and independent press, a unified system of values, and an educated and informed electorate. I find it ironic that Klein (2012) seems to think that the U.S. electorate is under-informed because they are overworked and overstimulated. Being overworked during a period of high unemployment and under-employment corresponds to a reluctance among employers to hire, in favor of increased utilization of existing resources and a desire among the employed to work as much as the opportunities allow to pay down debt. Being overstimulated may more likely apply to those who are unemployed or under-employed because people who are overworked and over-utilized would seem to have time available for non-work stimulation.
So, perhaps the overworked do not have time to get or stay informed and those who are not overworked do not pursue the path of the informed for other reasons. Regardless of the reasons, an under-informed or uninformed electorate is bad for at least two reasons. First, people who are under informed would seem to gravitate to any idea or proposition that simply sounds good, with no basis for making that assessment. People who are under informed simply lack the background or framework to discern a good and viable idea from an idea that is meant for emotional appeal more than anything else. A lack of sound values compounds this problem because valueless or weak-valued people lack the rudder and keel in life to assess ideas and propositions against a sustainable direction in life.
The other reason and under-informed electorate is problematic is that it implies, at least in part, that those same members of society also are increasingly less able to contribute to the economy by holding jobs that are highly value-adding. As technological innovation makes production of goods and services increasingly more complex, at least some members of the under-informed sector of society will be increasingly unequipped for jobs that are increasingly available. Foroohar (2012) observed that innovation drives productivity growth, which, in turn, leads to economic growth and higher standards of living, including wages. I do not agree with Foroohar, who cited Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, in the suggestion that all the good ideas are already behind us. They suggested thy the pace of innovation, the kind that is life-changing, emerged between 1870 and the 1970s, and at a decreasing rate. This is not to say that innovation is on a steady, nearly 150-year decline, but that the truly life-changing stuff is already in play.
As a self-proclaimed optimistic, who would look for the proverbial pony in the pile of manure, my sense is that we simply cannot proclaim the era of life-changing innovation To be wholly behind us. Professors on university campuses and creative types in Institutional and private labs and garages are likely on the verge of some highly disruptive technologies. I can say this because I have the privilege of working with some of them. Even if the best innovations are behind us, and I do not believe they are, I know some pretty Remarkable innovation is coming.
Regardless of the reasons for an under-informed electorate, society needs to better educate and better inform its collective citizenry. Innovation in education is essential, if only for the reality that today’s students have so much more that is available to learn than students of in the 1970s and earlier. A recent visit to a UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering research expo made clear that today’s students study material at a depth and breadth that was unavailable and unknown during my undergraduate years.
The trick for leaders seems to be to help and guide and encourage people at all levels to want to learn and to be informed. Stein (2012) discussed the concept of low-information voters, a term coined by Popkin of UC San Diego, coincidentally my alma mater. Under-informed, low-information voters may vote for what they believe is in their best interests, but may be as likely to vote for ideas that they believe to be good for their communities and country, but which are not (Stein, 2012). Popkin Apparently has been promoting this idea of low-information voters as being among us since at least the 1970s. Might the presence, and possible rise in, under-informed, low-information voters explain some of the choices made in our elections? Seems to be a reasonable conclusion.
Bryan, J. (2012, November). The other approaching cliff. Retrieved from
Foroohar, R. (2012, October 22). More jobs, less pay. Productivity is no longer growing fast enough to boost wages. Time, 180(17), 23.
Klein, J. (2012, November 5). Mitt and the Bomber Boys. Would Romney really reject the bellicose neocon wing of his party? Time, 180(19), 23.
Stein, J. (2012, November 5). Block the vote. Proposed: Citizens will not have the right to vote unless they are as smart as me. Time, 180(19), 62.