03/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Economic Stimulus: Fixing the Car While We're Driving It

A silver lining amidst the dark clouds of financial gloom may be the unique opportunity to remake our economy in a way that provides opportunities for all Americans, not just the privileged few. The Hope Street Group, a bipartisan, volunteer policy organization dedicated to building an Opportunity Economy, believes that the financial meltdown offers just such a challenge.

The Hope Street Group, founded a few years ago by a core group of young businesspeople, academics and professionals, promotes the general notion that investing in human capital is the best way to build our economy for the future, and has offered specific policy proposals in areas like healthcare, education, corporate welfare and housing. The group - of which I am a member, along with several thousand others around the country - has also developed an Economic Opportunity Index, which is a valuable tool for measuring economic opportunity in our complex society.

This week, the Executive Director of the Hope Street Group, Monique Nadeau, made an interesting point about the economic stimulus package. "We know how critical it is to address the short term crisis," said Nadeau, "But if we don't start at the same time to strengthen the true drivers of economic opportunity, we risk bouncing from crisis to crisis. We're in the unfortunate position of having to fix the car while we're driving it."

Nadeau's argument is that we can't lose sight of the forest for the trees (or the trees for the forest), and that the package should focus not only on the immediate crisis, but also on the long-term goals and standards of funding in health care, education, housing and other economic opportunity drivers. Beyond the immediate impact of the economic stimulus, are we building a productive foundation for future economic growth? While Republicans and centrist Democrats have raised some of these issues in discussing the various stimulus plans, this is truly a concern that should cross both partisan and ideological divides.

The challenge of "fixing a car while we're driving it" is to make sure that we don't let the economy crash, while at the same time making the fundamental repairs necessary to keep it running well into the future. And while there is no good reason to delay passage of an economic stimulus package -- which would send the economy into a ditch -- we need to make room in the package has the kind of long-term reconstructive features that will lead to jobs and other kinds of economic opportunities for all Americans well into the future.

After all, what the economic stimulus package is really about is salvaging the American Dream for all Americans. Only by taking a long-term view of economic growth and opportunity, even as we meet the short-term crisis, will we be able to restore that Dream.