Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Minnesota 2020 Journal: Our Flying Car Future

April 18, 2014 By John Van Hecke, Publisher

As legislative sessions go, this one is marked by relatively blip-free achievements. Progressive policy is taking a big step ahead after years of stutter-steps backwards. Striding forward, it’s important to remember that we realize more from the journey than we do from the destination.

Consider the higher profile victories. Minnesota passed a minimum wage increase for the first time since 2005 and it will be indexed for inflation. Legislators passed a school bullying bill that brings Minnesota schools up to speed with anti-bullying practices in peer states. Governor Dayton’s business-to-business tax repeal proposal was adopted. The State House has passed the Women’s Economic Security Act, a measure aimed at minimizing the gender equity gap in Minnesota workplaces. And, those are just the higher profile issues.

There’s still much to do before legislative adjournment. Policymakers must move a bonding bill, also known as a Capital Investments bill. This is the mechanism for financing large-scale public projects like roads, bridges, buildings and other physical infrastructure. Increasing regulation of payday loans, permitting limited sale of medical marijuana and a rail safety bill responding to increased western oil rail traffic rolling through Minnesota aren’t finished.

In response, Minnesota’s elected conservative leaders have been largely quiet or sidelined, depending on perspective. They’ve mostly opposed the above-detailed initiatives, sometimes loudly and sometimes with barely a perceptible murmur. That generally means one of two things.

First, recognizing growing public support for an issue such as a minimum wage increase or greater anti-school bullying measures, conservative opponents quietly concede the ground. Pushing hard against a public that’s already moved on is difficult if not impossible. Thus, the decision to let an issue go. Their second alternative, the choice of every minority legislative chamber caucus, is to make a strong oppositional case, force a vote, lose the vote and position the issue for the November public elections. Legislative Democrats did this to great effect in 2011 and 2012 but Republicans have, in earlier elections, used the tactic with equal success.

I have another, broader suggestion, however. The conservative no-new-taxes/less government policy framework has run its course. Thirty years of insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy with the promise of demonstrable, positive trickle-down results for the non-wealthy hasn’t born fruit. The real policy results have been wage stagnation, a weakening of the middle class and accelerating wealth accumulation among the very highest income earners. Those outcomes, over time, tend to alienate the very people that conservative policy promised to help. More freedom and liberty, as envisioned by conservative policy advocates, looks a lot like shoddier roads, shabby bridges, sliding public schools and stagnating economic growth. Consequently, it’s hard to promise more-of-the-same as a policy and electoral strategy.

For years, we’ve convinced ourselves that flying cars are in our future. Between encouraging Popular Mechanics magazine articles, Hollywood and the human capacity to dream of slipping the surly bonds of earth, flying cars appear tantalizing close to reality. Except, of course, that they’re not. As a practical matter, everything stops the flying car’s everyday integration into our lives. It starts with adding a third, vertical axis to the mix. Going forward, backwards and side-to-side, the X and Y axis, is easy in a car. Adding, simultaneously, up and down capacity, is a game-changer. An essentially impossible to achieve game-changer.

While Bernoulli’s Equation works efficiently in fixed-wing aircraft flight, applying it to other craft yields less efficient outcomes. Flying close to the ground requires a great deal of energy. The closest thing to an everyday flying car is probably the V-22 Osprey,  the US Marine Corps’ combined helicopter-airplane.

When you get right down to it, the flying car isn’t really a flying car; it’s allegory for human expectation and, following the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, a cautionary tale of hubris’ folly. Its application to Minnesota’s public policy debate is clear and immediate. The journey is greater than the destination.

Yes, we want a flying car but the science, engineering, research, legal, cultural and public application hurdles necessary to overcoming the flying car’s production barriers are greater, more transformative achievements than any individual flying car. In public policy terms, creating strong schools, affordable healthcare, robust infrastructure and jobs is the greater outcome because we have to come together to achieve these goals.

State policymakers have made real strides in addressing Minnesota’s public policy needs. There’s much more to be done but this session’s achievements establish the groundwork for additional advance. Conservative policy leaders promise something very different from their actual goals. Progressive policy leaders, in contrast, are delivering on the progressive promise. Plus, there’s more to come.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.