With the U.S. election just days away, it has never been more important to consider what the next President must do to keep America competitive. In this time of crisis, Washington has focused on the immediate and the short term. Lost are the more basic questions we really need to worry about: What is the fundamental competitive position of the U.S. in the global economy? And what must we do to remain strong when other nations are making rapid progress?
The stark truth is that the U.S. has no long-term economic strategy--no coherent set of policies to ensure competitiveness over the long haul. Strategy embodies clear priorities, based on understanding the strengths we need to preserve and the weaknesses that threaten our prosperity the most. Strategy addresses what to do, but also what not to do. In dealing with a crisis, experience teaches us that steps to address the immediate problem must support a long-term strategy. Yet it is far from clear that we are taking the steps most important to America's long-term economic prosperity.
America's political system, especially as it has evolved in recent times, almost guarantees an absence of strategic thinking at the federal level. Government leaders react to current events piecemeal, rather than developing a strategy that unfolds over years. Congress and the Executive Branch are organized around discrete policy areas, not around the overall goal of improving competitiveness. Neither candidate has put forward anything close to a strategy; rather, each has presented a set of disconnected policy proposals with political appeal. Both parties contribute to the problem by approaching the economy with long-held ideologies and policy positions, many of which no longer fit with today's reality.
Now is the moment when the U.S. needs to break this cycle. The American economy has performed remarkably well, but our continued competitiveness has become fragile. Over the last two decades the U.S. has accounted for an incredible one-third of world economic growth. As the financial crisis hit, the rest of the American economy remained quite competitive, with many companies performing strongly in international markets. U.S. productivity growth has continued to be faster than in most other advanced economies, and exports have been the growth driver in the overall economy.