Washington could use a strong dose of reality right now. To solve our problems and seize opportunities, we must face up to some basic facts and fundamental realities.
The first reality is that we can’t do much of anything without economic growth, and you can’t create growth and jobs without the private sector. The debates are often centered on revenue and spending — who’s paying up and who’s getting what. But economic growth is the real force behind opportunity, security and prosperity.
We could return the economy to full employment through growth alone, with no rise in government spending. With stronger growth, the government would collect more revenue and help drive down the debt and deficits. Exports would boom, household income would increase and millions would rise out of poverty.
Another reality that’s often overlooked is that demography is destiny. Due to our aging society and increased life expectancy, the entitlement programs designed for an earlier era are unsustainable. They must be revised to meet today’s obligations and to keep tomorrow’s promises. We also face a shortage of native-born Americans to run our economy. We need an open and welcoming immigration policy that allows the world’s best talent and hardest workers to contribute to our economy and help keep it robust and competitive.
Our policies must reflect the reality that we are part of a competitive global economy. We can’t afford to think only in domestic terms. We need a bold trade agenda that ensures American exports are reaching world markets and that global trade and investment are welcome on our shores. Our tax code must not place U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage in the world. We need a regulatory system that fosters innovation and keeps the United States an attractive place to do business.
Finally, any rational analysis of the facts and our history show that our nation’s prosperity has been — and must always be — borne out of economic freedom. Our citizens and businesses have the right to take risks and be rewarded. They can go as far as their dreams, talent and hard work will take them. Why would we ever want to move — by design or accident — to a system where we turn over more of our freedom and responsibility to the government?
The tough choices we face about our future demand a clear-eyed approach. Our economic and fiscal challenges require a public debate that’s based on reality and characterized by truth telling. Washington isn’t exactly known for being forthcoming, but expect to hear it straight from business.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.