After this month's resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis, Washington's new focus is on jobs, unemployment and what Congress and the Obama administration can do to reassure the American public, restore economic growth, and get people back to work.
The current period is characterized by persistent and far-reaching uncertainty. Markets are uncertain (look at the extreme volatility here and around the world), consumers are uncertain (look at their sluggish spending), businesses are uncertain (they are sitting on huge amounts of cash and are not investing -- either in equipment and infrastructure, or human capital), and government policymaking is uncertain (the prolonged hassling that led to the debt-ceiling resolution and, now, the uncertainty about what will happen with this new select committee by Thanksgiving).
What I'm hearing from business leaders is that this is now the period when they are making their capital-allocation and human-capital decisions for 2012. With this much uncertainty, they tend to be hesitant, conservative. If this is the case, we can expect both economic growth and hiring to be very slow between now and the end of 2012.
President Obama is seen as delegating major issues and not leading until the very end. His effectiveness will improve if he can learn to be a conviction President -- like Ronald Reagan or FDR, both of who excelled at crafting narratives for the American public. These narratives were important in explaining what the country has been through and where it is going. People quickly see through platitudes and pep talks.
Economics is, fundamentally, about psychology, and the president can play a significant role in altering the nation's psychology. Our political and economic leaders, therefore, need to change the psychology of expectations in a way that promotes greater certainty about the future.
So here are some specific suggestions that might change the current economic dynamic:
Undoubtedly, many others will offer ideas in the weeks ahead. The key point is that our leaders must find ways to work together for the country's common good.
Former Education Secretary William J. Bennett used to say that in Washington, you're either on offense or on defense, and it's a whole lot better to be on offense. Congress has perhaps the lowest public approval in history, and President Obama's effectiveness and leadership are being questioned not just by Republicans but also by a growing number of Democrats. We need an all-out effort to put Americans back to work. Our leaders need to lead now; waiting for autumn is unacceptable.
Charles Kolb is president of the nonpartisan, business-led Committee for Economic Development in Washington, D.C. He served in the George H.W. Bush White House as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. The above views are solely the author's.