A New Strategy for Economic Growth
Growth is not just about economics. Growth unleashes human potential.
As the economy continues to struggle, we are reminded of a course offered at Yale University titled “Grand Strategy.” Drawing on a weighty curriculum of history and philosophy, the course seeks to train future policy makers to tackle the complex challenges of statecraft in a comprehensive, systematic way. Clearly, U.S. economic policy is sorely lacking an effective grand strategy, and we are likely to endure high unemployment, weak economic performance and trying financial markets until such a strategy is articulated and pursued.
Policy makers should cease the barrage of ad hoc, short-term policy initiatives. Is increased federal spending across government agencies a grand strategy? How about checks in the mail to spur spending? Cash for clunkers to move auto inventories? Fast trains and faster Internet? Mortgage modification programs and fleeting tax credits to re-stoke home ownership?
Inducing consumers to do today what they would otherwise do tomorrow is hardly a grand strategy. Hundreds of billions in “stimulus” spending has stimulated little but more debt. Forty-eight months have passed since the onset of the financial crisis, 26 months since the recession technically ended. Yet job creation remains remarkably weak, and markets deeply uneasy.
We can’t go on like this.
The debt-limit debate caused policy makers to recognize what citizens already knew: We must put our fiscal house in order. Cutting spending is essential. But we will never cut our way to prosperity.
So, what should be the economic grand strategy? In a word: growth.
Stability has replaced growth as the foremost objective of economic policy. But growth over the next 10 years is more consequential to our well-being than any new regulations promulgated by the Financial Stability Oversight Council or cost-cutting considered by the new congressional super committee. Absent strong growth, any projected improvements in the country’s fiscal position won’t materialize.
The grand strategy is sector-neutral. It doesn’t have favored industries or political parties. It does not seek to curry favor with special interests. The grand strategy fights statism everywhere.
The grand strategy goes out of its way to ensure that big companies are not advantaged at the expense of smaller, entrepreneurial competitors. If banks are “too big to fail,” they are too big. They must be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merit, without any hint of government support. The failed behemoths at the core of housing finance, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, should be wound down. Robust, dynamic competition is a far better way to allocate credit.
The grand strategy need not—and should not—be grandiose. It should avoid overpromising. Fiscal and monetary policies can help mitigate the effects of shocks to the economy, but they run grave risks if their goal is to target asset prices. When investors’ perceptions of Treasury securities change rapidly, they tend to be far less sure about the price of riskier assets, like stocks. The resulting volatility in financial markets harms growth.
A pro-growth strategy is decidedly long term in orientation. It aims for higher standards of living five, 10 and 20 years out, long past the next election cycle. It replaces the false promise made to the next generation of entitlement-program recipients with a solvent, dependable model that encourages work and savings. Reforming Social Security before costs multiply and uncertainties spread is both fairer and more growth-oriented. And enacting consumer-driven health-care policies represents the best way to control costs and improve patient care.
An effective growth strategy confronts tough challenges before they become intractable. The strategy is a threat to those who take refuge in our burdensome tax code, and it is a great source of encouragement to those who seek higher rates of return on physical and human capital. Hence, fundamental tax reform—dramatically lowering tax rates for individuals and companies while eliminating loopholes, deductions and credits—is critical to economic growth.
Achieving strong growth requires the free flow of capital, goods and ideas. We have world-class products and services to sell to the growing middle class in emerging markets. We must find our voice to resist the rising tide of economic protectionism and recognize the job-creating benefits of our pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
The growth strategy also demands an abiding respect for the rule of law, and stable, cost-effective rules of the road from regulators. A constantly changing regulatory regime kills investment and limits economic growth. The strategy also demands investing in our own natural resources, such as shale gas and the commensurate infrastructure to re-industrialize our country, creating jobs here in the U.S. rather than shipping hundreds of billions of dollars abroad.
Finally it means ensuring that the opportunities presented by a growing economy are matched by the skills of the next generation. We need to transform our education system through higher standards, merit-based teacher compensation and school choice. No grand strategy will prevail unless far more of our high-school graduates are college or career ready.
Stronger economic growth is not just about economics. Growth unleashes human potential. It turns personal aspirations into positive achievements. And it lays the predicate for a better, stronger, more prosperous and opportunity-filled America. Our weak economic recovery has dashed the hopes and dimmed the prospects of too many of our citizens. And it has put America’s place in the world at risk.
We should resist the temptation to wrangle with the green eyeshade folks who question our prospects. Instead, we must take actions that demonstrate our resolve and resiliency. We must restore our faith in growth economics and reform our policies accordingly. This will bring strength to our markets and reaffirm our place in the world.
Mr. Warsh, a former Federal Reserve governor, is a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Mr. Bush, governor of Florida from 1999-2007, is president of Jeb Bush and Associates, LLC.