By Teresa Welsh |
Whether the agenda President Obama laid out in Tuesday's State of the Union address proves to be a winning one will depend entirely on the ability of the eventual Republican nominee to provide a compelling counter-narrative. That candidate will need to make the case that the Democratic plan represents an intensified commitment to infusing the private sector with ever more government interference and control. More importantly, he will need to persuade voters that more government will lead to greater inefficiencies at a time when the struggling American economy can least afford it.
Obama's proposal that the federal government redouble its efforts to train workers in "skills that will lead directly to a job" is a perfect example. Republicans will need to argue that such a plan necessarily requires that predictions be made about which industries will need workers and which skills those workers will need to possess—judgments government is uniquely ill-suited to be making. Policymakers will do their best to determine where vacancies are likely to arise. But no amount of top-down guesstimation can match the power of the markets to seamlessly allocate labor and capital. In the end, there's no surer way to end up with a gross mismatch between skills supplied and skills demanded than to hand over the process of "training" to a government bureaucracy.
Obama also wants to reach into the energy industry and choose winners (shale gas, wind power) and losers (oil) by shifting tax cuts and giveaways from one favored sector to another. Republicans will need to emphasize government's lousy track record in this area and remind voters how wasteful government-sponsored "venture capitalism" can be. At a time when concern over the national debt sits at historic highs, pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into boondoggles like Solyndra is exactly the wrong course of action.
On the surface, Democratic arguments for publicly funded job training and investments in clean energy may seem to make sense. The challenge for Republicans will be to persuade the electorate that such proposals are bad economic policy hiding under a shiny coat of paint. If they can succeed, Obama's agenda might turn out to be a losing one. But that's a big, important if.
About Stephanie Slade Project Director at The Winston Group