A Time for Big Economic Ideas

The headlines may talk about growth, but we are living in a dark economic era. For most families, income and wealth have stagnated in recent decades, barely keeping pace with inflation. Nearly all the bounty of the economy’s growth has flowed to the affluent.

And if you somehow doubt the economic data, it’s worth looking at the many other alarming signs. “Deaths of despair” have surged. For Americans without a bachelor’s degree, one social indicator after another — obesity, family structure, life expectancy — has deteriorated.

There has been no period since the Great Depression with this sort of stagnation. It is the defining problem of our age, the one that aggravates every other problem. It has made people anxious and angry. It has served as kindling for bigotry. It is undermining America’s vaunted optimism.

So what are we going to do about it?

The usual answers — technocratic changes to the tax code and safety net — are not good enough. They don’t measure up to the problem: an economy that no longer delivers a consistently rising standard of living. They also aren’t very inspiring. In 2016, Hillary Clinton offered many thoughtful proposals, precisely none of which she got to implement.

This is a time for big ideas. One of the Trump presidency’s only silver linings is its proof that our political discourse had been too narrow. Frustrated Americans don’t feel bound by old rules. Almost 63 million of them voted for a man who had no political experience and made a mockery of politics as usual.

“Donald Trump’s victory implies that people need to be more bold,” as Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman, has said. “People yawned at the smallness of American politics, at the stagnation of American politics, at the same faces, the same ideas, the same talking points.” Or as Neera Tanden, who runs the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, says, “Donald Trump has widened the aperture for policy discussions in the United States.”

- New York Times

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