×

US must return to democratic traditions to revive 'American dream' after divisive election

Allianz CEO Oliver Bäte, in a 2015 interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch."
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Allianz CEO Oliver Bäte, in a 2015 interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch."

One of the most divisive presidential campaigns in modern U.S. history ends on November 8 but the political fight between the Republican Donald Trump and the Democrat Hillary Clinton will have lasting implications for the world at large.

In an open letter, Allianz CEO Oliver Bäte calls for concerted action by the United States to restore social consensus. Investments should be made to both reinforce the democratic foundation of the country and overcome the structural problems hurting the competitiveness of the economy.

The world followed the United States in the 20th century primarily because it was the leading democracy, not so much because of its economic and military might. Only a return to this democratic strength will ensure America's success in the future.

At the heart of this democratic leadership was the "American dream": the proverbial opportunity for all citizens and immigrants to work their way up from rags to riches. It involved basic democratic elements of an enterprising and fair society: equal opportunities with social mobility, free markets and entrepreneurial spirit, personal freedom and security. Even those who didn't become millionaires could, with sufficient personal effort, lead a socially and economically fulfilling life, with each generation doing better than the one before.

Harvard University's main campus in Cambridge, MA.
Getty Images
Harvard University's main campus in Cambridge, MA.

For a couple of years now, that has not been the case. Even with last year's strong rise, the average real income of households remains significantly lower than its peak in 1999. The shrinking middle class and the poor sections of society experienced a disproportionate decline. Educational opportunities also are unfairly distributed. Simply put, too many children in the US leave public schools, leading to woeful gaps in knowledge.

Structural problems, not cyclical ones, are undermining the U.S. economy's competitiveness and widening the divide between the rich and the poor. The pensions gap is widening.

Despite reforms, only the rich can afford high-quality healthcare, even though eight years after the financial crisis, the average annual US growth is 2 percent, unemployment has halved to 5 percent and real wages have started rising recently.

New York's Wall Street.
Getty Images
New York's Wall Street.

Americans sense that these developments threaten their prosperity. The country's claim that it is the world's leading democracy has been wobbly since the failed wars in the Middle East and the global financial crisis, which began on Wall Street.

However, many overlook the structural problems because of the strength of private American companies and the country's military dominance. Without the United States, Europe would scarcely be able to defend itself. And of the 10 most valuable companies in the world, the top nine are American.

Pedestrians pass the U.S. Capitol.
Getty Images
Pedestrians pass the U.S. Capitol.

Nevertheless, undeniable strengths must not make America blind to a self-critical analysis of its shortcomings and the need for reforms. Otherwise, polarization and paralysis in many sections of US society will linger: a partisan cold war in Congress, excesses in the presidential campaign and conditions resembling a civil war in big cities with a large population of minorities.

For that reason, after election day, U.S. politics must make a concerted effort to put the country's interests over any special interest. Opportunities that are not fully available to broad sections of the population must be reopened, with the same optimism and pragmatism that symbolized the United States once upon a time.

There is a need for greater investment, innovation and efforts to spread the wealth wider. It's time for a growth policy that doesn't exclude extensive parts of society and strengthens American small and medium-sized businesses.


Among the tasks awaiting the new government are: equal opportunities in education and social mobility, modernization of public and social infrastructure, and support for personal freedom and security. If social consensus isn't achieved, there is reason to fear that the fissures in US society will become bigger.

I wish to see the United States regain its social and economic unity under the great idea of the American dream. We, as friends and partners, should do all we can to help America return to its democratic strength and implement required reforms.

Oliver Bäte has been chief executive of Allianz, the German insurance and asset management giant, since May, 2015.

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.