This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 10, 2013 - Former Vice President Al Gore took issue Saturday with the Republican characterization of wealthy Americans as “the job creators’’ who needed to be protected from too many taxes.
Gore – speaking to a packed audience in St. Louis County -- argued that the label actually belongs to middle-class Americans who fuel the consumerism that has been the basis of the nation’s economy since the early 1900s.
That middle class, he warned, is being “hollowed out" by economic and political policies that could result in a dire future for all unless changes in direction are swiftly made.
And he’s not just talking about manufacturing jobs, millions of which have been shipped overseas during the past 30 years.
Gore said a new trend he called “robo-sourcing’’ is leading to the demise of good-paying professional jobs, including accountants and lawyers. As one example, he cited a new computer software program that he said is increasingly being used by law firms.
With that program, “one first-year law associate … can now do as much legal research as used to require 500 first-year lawyers, and there are fewer mistakes because the computer is more accurate,” he said.
The disappearance of such jobs could break the cycle the United States has relied on “since the days of Henry Ford,” Gore contended.
“When the middle-class makes adequate wages and salaries, they go to the stores and buy the goods,” he said. “When the store shelves need to be replenished, then the factories crank up and there are more jobs. It’s a circle. If that stream of wage and salary income slows down to a trickle, what happens to the demand that drives the economy?”
Gore was addressing a rapt sold-out audience of several hundred Saturday night at the St. Louis County Library’s headquarters in Frontenac. He was in town as part of a national tour to promote his latest book, “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.”
His key message: "We have to consciously participate in making choices so that we seize the opportunities and protect the future against some of these trends that could be extremely dangerous."
Warns of 'stalker economy' fueled by internet
For 90 minutes, Gore touched on a variety of factors that he predicts will shape the future, from policies dealing with the economy and energy, to the shift of political and economic power to China and the East, to the pluses and minuses caused by the explosive use of the internet.
Regarding the latter, Gore asserted that the nation and the world are rapidly seeing a “stalker economy’’ where private business and governments are quietly collecting data on all computer users, monitoring every website they visit and what they read online.
While emphasizing that he supported government efforts to protect Americans from terrorism, Gore said some of the surveillance trends were “unAmerican’’ and could be abused.
He also dove deeply into two of his favorite topics – alternative energy and climate change – to highlight his long-held stance that too much reliance on fossil fuels endangers the planet and the human race.
On that score, Gore actually offered some hope. He cited examples where businesses were shifting to renewable sources of energy and supplies because such practices saved money.
Gore contended that solar and wind energy – lambasted by some conservatives as wasting government subsidies – also are becoming more cost-effective. In Australia, he said, officials are saying that wind energy has become cheaper than oil or coal.
Back in the United States, Gore said it was time to end federal subsidies for the oil and coal industries, which he noted were more generous than the aid given to renewable energy production.
He said China has been subsidizing its solar and wind industries, a key reason that country has outpaced the United States in producing solar panels and other components.
“We invented these technologies," Gore said. “We ought to be creating the jobs here.”
Blasted Washington's 'government by crisis'
Gore also warned that the partisan battles in Washington over economic and tax policies were not just threatening the nation’s economy, but doing damage to the United States’ world standing.
“I’m tired of government by crisis all the time," he said. “We just got past the fiscal cliff, and three weeks from now, we’ve got another ‘cliff.’ I'm suffering from cliff fatigue. “
Gore called on all parties to reach a consensus that produced a budget and ended “this business of phoning in a filibuster and stopping everything…”
Such disputes, along with other national missteps – which he implied included the war in Iraq -- have had global consequences, he said.
“The rest of the world has begun to question whether or not they can afford to follow us, just automatically, the way they would often do in the past.”
“They know we have the values and the traditions and the Constitution,” he continued, but are concerned by what they are observing.
Gore also lamented the rising power and influence of those with money and power, which he said has led to politicians paying more attention to their donors than to their constituents.
He condemned the Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, that allows the wealthy to make anonymous donations of any size.
“Our democracy has been hacked,” he said. “It’s not working the way it should.”
Has 'moved on' from 2000 presidential loss
During a question-answer session with St. Louis Public Radio host Don Marsh, Gore said that he’d “moved on" from the presidential contest in 2000, where he won the popular vote but lost the White House because Republican George W. Bush captured more electoral votes.
Since then, he has written books, been involved in the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth" and won the Nobel Prize. Gore also has gotten involved in some financial lucrative ventures, including the recent sale of the cable network Current TV to Al Jazeera, a TV network owned by the Middle East government of Qatar, which has been enriched by its oil resources.
In response to Marsh’s questions, Gore said he had no regrets about the sale to Al Jazeera, which he described a network known for objective journalism. He added that he also wasn’t surprised by the sale’s controversy, but predicted that cable viewers will soon see for themselves whether Al Jazeera-English is worth watching.
As for losing his quest for the White House, Gore told Marsh that “I do think things would have been very different" if he had prevailed over Bush. He refrained from getting too specific, other than implying that he wouldn’t have launched the war in Iraq.
Gore said he doesn’t dwell on his loss, but emphasized that he recognizes that being president of the United States is the best place “to make positive change."
For that reason, he’s hoping to hear President Barack Obama in Tuesday’s State of the Union address touch on the issues – notably climate change – that Gore said were ignored the presidential candidates and the press during last fall’s campaign.
As for himself, Gore said, “I’m very grateful to have found other ways to be able to serve.”