If I were President of the United States (POTUS), I would make the economy my top priority. I know there are many challenges besetting our great country -- the budget deficit, deteriorating infrastructure, struggling schools, immigration, climate change, medical care costs, and a growing income gap just to name a few -- but they are interconnected with the economy. If we can only contrive to sustain a growing economy, there will be resources and opportunities enough to get us through, and pass on our legacy of freedom to future generations.
My economic program would begin with some tough battles to break the backs of the wealthy cartels in our society that control health care, finance, military spending, education and entitlement programs. Those five areas are bleeding us white and undermining productivity but they are defended by entrenched special interests resistant to change. Taking them all on would be a lonely job, but it must be done sooner or later. If I were the POTUS, I would throw down the gauntlet and let the chips fall where they may.
At the same time, I would use the bully pulpit of the White House to make the American people understand we are still the greatest manufacturing power in the world and that our leadership in manufacturing is key to economic growth. Manufacturing is the seedbed of innovation in an age when innovation is racing ahead at breakneck speed. Manufacturing is real world alchemy -- the transmutation of base metals into wonderful things more precious than gold. It is, more than any other sector, where real wealth is created and that magical process is growing more fascinating and promising by the hour.
But we don't understand it or at least don't seem to grasp the significance of it. Right now the economy is doing okay, but the long term outlook is troublesome. Business is cutting back on R&D. Congress lets the R&D tax credit lapse every year. Our great corporations curtail capital investment to make short term profits look better. We are slowly killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, in large part because we do not recognize the goose.
President Obama has done some things right for manufacturing. His manufacturing hubs, for example, are spot on. They are bringing business, government and academia together to spur advances in promising areas of manufacturing technology. The business community should be a lot louder and more supportive of these hubs. Likewise his plan to steer young people away from pursuit of four-year college degrees -- subsidizing two-year programs at community colleges, and encouraging apprenticeship -- could lay the groundwork for a long term solution to the skills gap. Also, his advocacy of free trade agreements transcends politics.
The one big hole in Obama's legacy is Obamacare which is a Rube Goldberg contraption that does not do enough to control costs. Obama (or his successor) should accept the challenge to "fix" Obamacare by reining in medical costs before they drive our economy over a fiscal cliff. That's what I would do if I were President. (And with apologies to General Sherman, if nominated I will run, if elected I will serve.)
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements.