Foreign direct investment as a Democratic election strategy

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Only moments after the Associated Press declared Karen Handel had defeated Jon Ossoff in the 6th District of Georgia, the Democratic soul-searching commenced. The Ossoff campaign spent a staggering amount of money in an attempt to pry the suburban district from gerrymandered GOP hands—nearly $24 million. So why couldn’t the Democratic Party pull off a win in a highly educated suburb that is increasingly diverse? Well, there were lots of reasons.

In the immediate aftermath, some on the left blamed the Democratic Party for silencing the progressive wing of the party, which, since the Sanders campaign, has been particularly vocal. Others lay the loss at the feet of Nancy Pelosi. I live in that district, and friends and neighbors cited Ossoff’s alleged ties to Pelosi, the fact that he had little experience, and he didn’t even live in the district as their primary concerns—basically, that the 6th District was “not for sale.” While it is true Ossoff was unwillingly tied to Pelosi, an unpopular figure outside of California, Handel was equally tied to Trump and his sub-forty percent approval rating in spite of her best efforts to distance herself during the campaign.

In the end it came down to messaging. Ossoff is a prime example of why the Democrats will continue to lose in the South and Midwest unless and until they craft a new and fresh economic platform. The social issues that drive progressive democrats to the polls on the West Coast and in the Northeast don’t have the same pull in the rest of the country. Democrats need to refocus the party on jobs and economic growth.

Meanwhile, the GOP is teetering between old-school conservatism that embraces free market principals, and the new Trump-era economics that advocates for higher trade barriers and a slow-down of foreign influence in American economics. This uncertainty on the right leaves a glimmer of hope for the Democratic party to regain the narrative of working on behalf of the middle class. To flip Congress and regain the White House, they need a stronger economic vision. Some Democrats in Congress are echoing the need for a bolder platform of change and run-of-the-mill economic development rhetoric. A friend and former colleague of mine, Congressman Ro Khanna of California, expressed his concern: “We need a bolder economic platform, our party needs to be for good jobs and better wages, [and] we have to have some bold economic ideas that are going to convince people that we get it.” Furthermore, Congressman Tim Ryan, in the wake of the GA-6 special election, has urged Democrats to make forging a clear economic agenda an urgent priority.

It is well known that progressives love the idea of a global community. They embrace international agreements like the recently abandoned Paris agreement and stand by the benefits of the EU and UN, yet rarely openly support free trade and FDI. The Democratic Party needs to frame the “global community” narrative in economic terms. An easy way to accomplish the pivot? Embrace foreign direct investment. Explain to voters the benefits of free trade, capital investments, and export-based industry. According to the Brookings Institute, foreign-owned US affiliates directly employ some 5.6 million workers in the US economy. Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average worker employed by a foreign-owned firm earned more than $77,000 per year in compensation compared to just $60,000 for the average US worker. And if that isn’t enough, foreign firms spend well over double the private-sector average on benefits per worker.  Even better, a significant portion of FDI investment goes into manufacturing, often in the Midwest and South, areas of Democratic weakness. In 2012, 48 percent of all FDI dollars destined for the US flowed into manufacturing.

Knowledge of FDI and its benefits is severely lacking, as is the economic platform of the Democratic Party. To make the acceptance of a global economic market platform even more intriguing, often foreign firms looking to set up manufacturing facilities in the United States are in need of skilled labor. The type of worker they desire does not need a four-year degree but does need some level of formal training. The manufacturing industry, ready and willing to employ middle-class workers, is actually facing a labor shortage. The number of open manufacturing jobs has been rising since 2009 and peaked in 2016, hitting a 15-year high. Access to higher education has been a Democratic mainstay for nearly a generation. An adjustment to supporting vocational and technical education to fill manufacturing jobs brought to the states through FDI would make their platform more relatable and tangible to the average American. Not every citizen of the United States wants or needs to attend a four-year university to be economically stable.

The acceptance of foreign direct investment into the Democratic platform has the ability to ground their economic agenda in real-life working-class concerns. In one fell swoop, the Democratic Party can reimagine their economic, international, and education policy platforms in a way that promotes their dedication to the global family, ensures increased spending on higher education, creates jobs, raises wages, and actually gives them something to run on that isn’t Trump’s failures. Without a clear and directed economic platform, the Democratic Party will continue to fail. To that end, embracing foreign direct investment should be a primary Democratic strategy for domestic victories in key districts.