Mort Zuckerman: Three Ways to Revive Our Sluggish Economy

The U.S. economy has never really emerged from the Long Recession.

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[See a collection of political cartoons on the European debt crisis]

No wonder voters see this as more than a recession. We will need a recovery from this recovery. We must change our public policy in a big way. As the old saying goes, "If your horse is dead, the best strategy is to dismount." There are several courses: fresh mounts, one might say, if we could find a horseman of the courage and skill of the Pony Express heroes.

One that's critical is tax reform: Broaden the base and get rid of loopholes, deductions, and credits—and the inherent corruption related to them—so as to enable lower marginal tax rates. The second is a serious program for the enhancement of human and physical capital, both crucial for sustainable long-term growth. We must have greater investment in R&D and education, particularly in math and the sciences, and in vocational skill training in community colleges. I've long advocated the creation of an infrastructure bank, marrying private and public capital for new construction and to repair what we have. The American Society of Civil Engineers has identified $2.2 trillion of investment needed over five years for water systems, dams, bridges, railroads, and other infrastructure; tolerating decay will only cost us more. In the Northeast corridor, for example, bottlenecks are created on 1-95 as trucks clog the bumper-to-bumper highway because the railroad bridge and tunnel clearances are too low for double-stacked containers. Half the cost of doing the work now would come from the multibillion-dollar savings that would result later. Third, we must address the deficit along the lines of the Bowles-Simpson plan the president ignored, or at some unpredictable point we risk the bond market treating us as it has been treating Italy and other countries with unsustainable debts.

Despair has opinion in its grip—despair about leadership, especially the no-no, party-line Congress, which has no room for an independent-minded centrist like Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who recently announced her retirement. Nor does the public have the faith it had nearly four years ago in the ability of the man with the ultimate responsibility: the president. As Harry Truman said of his presidency, and he meant it, "The buck stops here."

  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.
  • Check out the U.S. News Economic Intelligence blog.
  • See a slide show of Mort Zuckerman's 5 Ways to Create More Jobs.