It's the Economy, Stupid

In the presidential campaign of 1992, James Carville, an aide to candidate Bill Clinton, earned widespread acclaim (or notoriety) for his dogged insistence that everyone working for Clinton should remain focused on the plight of working people. "It's the economy, stupid," he said over and over until it became a mantra and part of the American political lexicon.

As the elections of 2016 loom, the single most important issue that should command priority attention is the same as in 1992 -- the economy. Millions are under-employed and working people are barely holding their own. Surveys show the majority of Americans feel the country is moving in the wrong direction. We are losing our competitive edge in global competition and this weakness is reflected in anemic economic growth. We need to challenge the candidates to tell us how their policies will spur growth and empower working people.

I was frankly disappointed by the most recent Republican debate that simply did not focus on the economy. I expected more of the moderators for CNBC, given that network's focus on business. Here is what the moderators should have asked:

• Most economists believe the Federal Reserve should raise interest rates even though the economy remains weak. What would you advise Janet Yellen to do?

• Recent data suggest we are losing our commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship. How would you go about reviving our traditional American creativity?

• Our tax system is a mess. What changes would you advocate to use our tax system to encourage capital investment and growth?

• Our public schools are not preparing young people for jobs in the real world and we have no coherent program to retrain older workers for jobs in the new economy. How can we equip people with the skills they need to find productive employment?

• Our infrastructure is deteriorating, taking a toll on our economy. What would you do to rebuild our infrastructure?

• Some 95 percent of consumers are not in the U.S. How would you suggest we grow our exports? Where do you stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Export-Import Bank?

This is a great opportunity to challenge the candidates to knock off the personal jabs, give ideology a rest and start talking about concrete plans to get our economy growing again. Ideology has become a refuge for people without constructive ideas. Today as in 1992, the key issue remains the same -- the economy.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. You can quote from this with attribution. Let me know if you would like to speak with Jerry. November 2015