No matter how they feel about it, most Americans recognise they are participants in a global economy that increasingly affects their own lives and the strength of their country. While some businesses in my own state of Iowa are excited at the opportunity to export their products to new markets, powerful new competitors are challenging US economic leadership, threatening the nation’s growth and exposing Americans to a new kind of insecurity.

As global competition intensifies, the US needs a comprehensive national strategy to make it the most innovative, productive country in the world, able to create high-wage jobs and redeem the promise that each generation can enjoy more opportunity than the last.

Our current leaders in Washington seem to think we can do little or nothing to shape the global marketplace, to enhance our competitive position in the world, or to ensure that Americans who work hard and play by the rules earn the full reward for their talent and effort. Their inaction threatens to consign America to second-class status.

That is why the Progressive Policy Institute is releasing a report entitled “Raising Our Game,”* outlining a competitiveness strategy based on modernising policies in this new economic era. This strategy is based on four pillars. Putting innovation first means regaining our edge in technology and scientific research. We should create a “supersized” tax credit for research and experimentation, and establish a network of university-based venture capital funds to finance loans for start-up companies willing to find commercial applications for scientific and technological advances. We should also foster a new generation of scientists and engineers by establishing a national network of 250 publicly financed but independent science and technology academies.

Establishing a new compact for worker security means recognising that the industrial age system of personal security based on lifelong employment and stable employer-
sponsored benefits no longer serves most Americans. It is time to provide transitional health insurance for all unemployed workers and create a new “universal pension” that can be carried from job to job. We should cut through the bureaucracy and offer dislocated workers access to money for skills training, while modernising and expanding eligibility for unemployment insurance and trade adjustment assistance such as skills training. We also need to modernise labour laws to preserve the eroding ability of workers to form unions and bargain collectively for wages and benefits. This new compact for worker security is a worthy project that should unite all progressives and all Democrats.

Strengthening the world trading system means restoring balance and order in international trade and currency transactions. It also means aggressively defending American rights in the world trading system and ensuring that other countries’ commitments in trade agreements can be fully enforced.

Restoring fiscal sanity in Washington means dealing with a deficit crisis that represents a permanent handicap for our economic competitiveness, a threat to the prosperity of future generations and a dangerous dependence on creditor nations. We should emulate the now-abandoned bipartisan fiscal policies of the Clinton years, slashing deficits and imposing pay-as-you-go rules to keep politicians from financing new government benefits and tax cuts at the expense of our country’s future.

This strategy is just a starting point for an agenda to make America strong and competitive, and to reduce the economic insecurity that is robbing Americans of the ability to manage their working lives and retirements. Indeed, while a national competitiveness strategy is essential, there are many steps best taken by state and local officials to enhance the skills, earning power and security of American families and of the country as a whole. This week, the Progressive Policy Institute’s parent organisation, the Democratic Leadership Council, released another report, “Winning America’s Future,” that will provide a menu of policy ideas for strengthening our economy.

Our aim is to jump-start a debate about the realities of the new world we live in, how we can shape economic change in the national interest while “expanding the winner’s circle” of Americans prepared to compete and win, and the urgent need for action. Surrendering to global competition is immoral and unpatriotic; pretending it can be made to go away is an illusion. Americans must do what they have always done in changing times: use their brain power to adapt and succeed.

The writer is governor of Iowa and chairs the Democratic Leadership
Council. *

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