Anheuser-Busch Briefing Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
1615 H St NW, Washington, D.C.
Registration and Breakfast: 8:00 a.m.-8:30 a.m.
David Brooks is never more fascinating than when he overturns conventional wisdom. This is especially so when he touches on the work of our scholars and fellows at the Chamber Foundation to argue that America’s greatest ideas will not come from behind lecterns but from the unheralded Americans that work hard outside of the media’s spotlight.
Joel Kotkin, a past fellow here, has long worked to highlight the growth and innovation happening in the American Midwest, Inter-Mountain West, and the Third Coast along the Gulf of Mexico. Energy and agriculture especially are driving capital and jobs to long-forgotten areas. Brooks sees this “giant arc of unfashionableness” as in fact being “America’s epicenters of economic dynamism.” He quotes Kotkin’s work and paints a far different picture of growth than what we may be used to:
“You start at the Dakotas where unemployment rates are at microscopic levels. You drop straight down through the energy belts of the Great Plains until you hit Texas. Occasionally, you turn to touch the spots where fertilizer output and other manufacturing plants are on the rebound, like the Third Coast areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Northern Florida.”
Brooks goes on to note the agricultural abundance that our scholar Nick Schulz highlighted for us last year, a story of exports and growth driven by innovation nearly as profound as any found in Silicon Valley. Those agricultural exports now total some $135 billion a year.
America’s energy industry too is experiencing a renaissance that’s nearly unparalleled in our lifetimes. The global weight of energy production is shifting back to North American shores. “Fuel has become America’s largest export item,” and, as Brooks put it, we can thank the “boring old oil and gas engineers” for that. Here’s how our fellow, Jim Slutz, describes the changing energy map:
“Over the past few years, new oil and natural gas discoveries have been made in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. In just a few years, North Dakota has become the second-largest oil-producing state in the United States, behind only Texas. Pennsylvania is becoming a leading natural gas-producing state.”
Rather than having an energy policy built on a foundation of scarcity, we should now look to a policy framework based on abundant energy. As Slutz argues, “By doing so, we can produce more oil, gas, coal, and other energy sources to power more opportunities and innovations. We will also create a consistent, stable, and predictable investment environment that will likely result in alternative energy technologies that we have not yet imagined.”
David Brooks is right though—these stories don’t tickle the imagination in quite the same way as the latest whiz-bang gadget. The individuals leading America’s growth in energy and agriculture don’t necessarily seek out the spotlight either. That shouldn’t matter. Here’s Brooks again:
“My main impression over the past five years is that the conference circuit capitalists who give fantastic presentations have turned out to be marginal to history while the people who are too boring and unfashionable to get invited to the conferences in the first place have actually changed the world under our noses.”