Guest Column: How Do We Unleash Free Enterprise? Here’s How
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With unemployment at 8.5% at the start of an election year, we can expect politicians of all political stripes to fill the airways with their ideas for creating jobs.
Many of their ideas will be good ones – and I’m sure I’ll agree with some and disagree with others. But the surest way to create the jobs we need to return to full employment will require more than so-called “jobs programs.” It will require getting our economic engine – our private economy – running on all cylinders again. We need to unleash our free enterprise system.
The bottom line is this: economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone. The free market, regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.
That simple proposition, articulated in the Democratic Leadership Council’s New Orleans Declaration, was the guiding principle for the economic policies of the Clinton Administration that resulted in the creation of 22.5 million jobs in eight years. And, it should guide our economic policy principle once again.
We could start by pursuing economic policies that focus on the fundamentals:
• Getting our fiscal house in order to establish a firm foundation for growth.
• Making public investments on people and technology that drive economic expansion and job- creating innovation.
• Expanding trade by opening markets abroad.
In October, after years of stalemate, with the support of President Obama and the U.S. Chamber, Congress finally approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama. That action needs to be followed by even greater efforts to double exports over the next five years – a goal the President and Chamber agree on.
The President and the business community agree, as well, on the need to reform our public education system, the critical element in creating the highly educated, skilled and productive workforce we need to grow and prosper in the new economy. We cannot let a recalcitrant education establishment derail the “Race to the Top” initiative.
Unfortunately, there is no such progress on the first fundamental – getting our fiscal house in order. For most of 2011 the Congress and the President seemed more interested in scoring political points in a poisonously polarized atmosphere than in making the tough but necessary actions to put our economic future back on course.
Nothing in Washington is easy in an election year, but we cannot waste another year while our debt problem continues to mount. It’s time to turn a new leaf in 2012.
It’s not like we don’t know what we have to do. It’s all been laid out for us in the recommendations of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – the bipartisan commission chaired by former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson.
The Simpson-Bowles blueprint calls for spending cuts, including entitlement reforms, and tax increases – mostly through tax reform – that will reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade while still allowing investments for innovation and growth. That’s exactly the formula we need to get our economic engine roaring again. Moreover, commission members of both parties, including all three Republican senators, voted in favor of the plan.
Last year the President punted on his own commission’s report. I believe that was one of the biggest mistakes he’s made in his presidency. In large part, because he failed to push the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, the President lost control of the deficit debate to the most extreme elements of the Congress – and we all paid for that.
Fortunately, this month the President can correct his mistake. He needs to make the Simpson-Bowles plan the centerpiece of his State of the Union Address and the cornerstone of his long-term economic agenda. By embracing his own deficit commission report, he can refocus the fiscal debate on the most important fundamental of all – a tough fiscal policy that can be the foundation for rapid economic growth.
That’s the best way to create jobs. A growing private economy will create more jobs over the next decade than all the “jobs programs” the White House and the Congress can dream up.
Al From is principal of the From Company, LLC, and founder of the Democratic Leadership Council.