Assessing US Elections Part II: Focusing on the Economic Frame
Previously published on May 21, 2010
The economy is one of the key aspects, which voters must consider, when choosing their leaders in their Local, State, and Federal governments. As the Nation grew into a single unified economy, the significance of economic expansion took center stage in politics and, as we expand ever more into a global market, viewing issues from an economic standpoint becomes more and more important. Not only does the health of the economy influence almost every aspect of our society, the security of our Nation and our way of life are dependent upon a strong economy. On the other hand, it is simply not enough to listen to the candidates and review their records as voters must choose candidates who truly understand economic issues and have solutions that will actually benefit the American citizen economically. Above all, this requires politicians and voters to understand what are the most significant economic issues and what solutions are most beneficial to American citizens.
In general, traditional views of the economy look to indicators of economic success that include the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment, imports and exports, inflation, consumer confidence, and stock indexes, such as the NASDAQ, S&P 500, and Dow Jones, which track the overall viability, investor confidence, and growth of major businesses that makeup the US economy. A balanced view of dealing with the economy, which is beneficial to the American citizen, is one that strives to achieve a strong but consistent GDP, export to import ratio, stock market growth, and employment associated with high wages and moderate inflation. Of course, there are quite a few ideas on how to reach this balanced stance.
Some politicians favor low taxes to stimulate growth in our economy, some favor limiting or taxing certain imports to favor domestic goods while retaining tax revenue lost from imports, some look to government spending to spur growth in various American industries, thus allowing for lower taxes, and most people would probably prefer a mixture of strategies that keeps money flowing inside the US. Given the need to balance the budget, expand jobs, and recover from the Global Recession of 2008/2009, I believe the best approach for America is for our leaders in Washington, as well as our State capitals, to foster growth in the economy by supporting the American citizen, not the "corporate citizen" through non-isolationist protectionist policies that engage in focused free trade agreements.
Under such an approach, employment will be a major focus while taxes can be decreased for Americans instead of foreign imports, which will, in turn, create industries that supply goods to fulfill the needs of government, our development, and American consumers. Although there are plenty of critiques against government regulation and taxation, we are still the largest consumer in the world so businesses will do business with America even if our policies do not favor businesses above citizens. Furthermore, a strategy along these lines would solve our wealth distribution problem by balancing the economy to favor all economic classes instead of favoring wealthy investors and businesses while maintaining the flow of money versus leaving it sit in the pockets of the wealthiest.
Beyond the direct indicators of economic success, our economy is influenced by regulation and the availability of raw goods for sale and consumption. From a very rigid, limited perspective, regulation can be seen as a government imposed burdens hindering business. Then again, from a broader overall economic view, regulation represents the government's recognition of the influence that industry has on social issues and its refusal to allow businesses, knowingly or unknowingly, to displace the costs of unhealthy practices onto the consumer via dangerous products and environmental destruction. Unfortunately, when the economy is healthy, an atmosphere of deregulation, as we saw during the 1990's into the 2000's, results in wholesale deregulations and an unwillingness to enforce regulations as seen in the financial derivatives market and the oil industry.
One consequence of a narrow economic perspective is that in the past our society has viewed the environment as a backseat issue when setting economic policies with economic growth being the constant focus. As the climate shifts so does the understanding that the environment, along with the health of the people, becomes the goal with the economy transitioning into a variable that needs to be rebuilt around the environment's needs. Issues, such as the environment, healthcare, food supply, housing, and other economically driven social issues, need to be viewed from an economic lens, because they not only contribute to the strength of the economy, but because they are affected by how people view the economy as a whole and whether or not these issues are a direct economic concern in the decisions of the people who shape the economy.
Furthermore, issues such as education and scientific research are important to the economy because they create the next line of products and services for the economy. A lack of long-term economic planning leads to a view that these issues are insignificant. As such, in the current job market, a great number of employers do not utilize the skills and training that Americans acquire in high school and secondary schooling, thus persuading some to believe that our education system is fruitless and does not need the funding and attention that it requires to be successful in creating dynamic, learning individuals. In addition, weakened scientific funding has meant less research and fewer experts in a broader spectrum of fields for the United States. Unfortunately, rebuilding our intellectual capacity takes years once it declines.
Part of our economy's shortcomings are a result of our job market failing to broadly provide individuals with tasks that involve creative problem solving, analysis, and creative thinking while most employment opportunities in American fail to utilize the majority of skills, which our very expensive education system provides employees. On one end, as we continue to automate industry and foreign nations aggressively takeover low and high skilled industrial jobs, research and development becomes ever more important to our economy. On the other end, since business can research products in other nations, often cheaper, our government needs to create more research through renewed funding, as was offered by The Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which serves only as a down payment, thus spurring new industries to support that research. The difficulty is that our political leaders do not seem to understand how the dynamics of our economy affect American citizens, and so, fail to adequately respond to economic development, thus they lead the Nation into economic crisis.
When looking to elect or reelect a public official, it is imperative that voters broadly understand how the economy affects them and push for leaders who view the economy in similar terms. It is a failure to ensure politicians understand the economy in terms of individual impact, which leads them to view a healthy economy as one that is not necessarily healthy for the individual, while such views ultimately lead to economic crisis. Moreover, many of the issues facing our society today can be viewed as economic issues, but because they sometimes are not, our leaders often fail to understand how these issues affect the economy and our lives. Healthy economic policies result in a truly balanced economy, which is stable and allows businesses to flourish, while it, more importantly, provides for the citizens of America. Above all, a healthy economy starts with the ability to view social issues that affect and are affected by the economy through the economic lens.