The election is over, the next quadrennium is nigh, and the American economy still totters along. Attention now focuses on the so-called fiscal cliff and its tangle of budgetary issues, with all the clashes of interests and human frailties that fighting over taxes and spending entails. Yet the dangers extend far beyond the current crisis. Once we’ve navigated the perils of the fiscal cliff, then it’ll be time to … to do … to do what, exactly?
For suggestions, look inside. This edition of The Next Economy, a quarterly supplement published jointly by The Atlantic and National Journal, offers a To Do list for the U.S. economy—the problems we’ll need to address if we hope to restore the nation’s economic might.
We start with a diagnosis. Jonathan Rauch’s cover story explores the innards of an economy that seems to be slipping its gears: productivity growth not trickling down to workers; less-educated men losing their grip in the workplace; folks at the top disconnecting from everyone else. These are long-term trends so overarching that maybe no (democratic) government could do much more than tinker.
Still, there are things we can do, not only to ease these painful transitions but also to address the unsexy but vital problems facing an economy that’s been looking long in the tooth. We’ve chosen eight items for our To Do list—including reviving innovation; creating “middle-skill” jobs; taming medical costs; and nudging students through college—and offer actions that a reelected president and a (mostly) reelected Congress could take.
All of these problems, in theory, are fixable. But in actuality? That’s the trillion-dollar question, and nobody knows the answer. With one exception: You do. Solving these problems will take political courage, of which politicians are in precious short supply, as well as money—also in short supply. In a back-page essay, I argue that the secret to surmounting these obstacles lies with a public that is willing to think long term—to sacrifice. Americans used to be good at that. Why not again?