Our region’s economy is rapidly reaching a crossroads. Many of the problems we face cannot be addressed through blanket policy prescriptions. So how about putting aside our partisan bickering and looking at the tasks at hand?
As a business person, I’d like our politicians to acknowledge that there are no absolutes when it comes to creating conditions for successful economic growth. Every successful business person knows that growing a business is never clear cut. We must listen to new ideas and try new solutions when the old ones aren’t working. Inflexible business owners rarely succeed in the long run because they can’t respond to changing circumstances.
If a dogmatic and inflexible approach doesn’t work for business, what makes us think it will work for the economy? I’ll admit that it’s somewhat comforting to believe that a rosy economic future can be assured if we follow simple policy prescriptions. All would be well if we had a higher minimum wage. Tax cuts are what is needed to grow our small businesses. All regulations are bad. And so it goes.
Instead of focusing on absolutes, we should acknowledge that our economy is an imperfect amalgam of businesses that historically has grown best when we rely on data to create policies and approaches that maximize economic opportunities. It’s never been effective for us to merely take a set of prescriptions on faith. When we admit that we live in that gray area where outcome matters more than ideology and when we are willing to acknowledge that well-run government coexists with well run businesses, that’s when our economy grows the fastest.
The greater Washington region faces real growth challenges. Our highways and roads are crowded and getting worse. Public transportation is failing, even as we build town centers in reliance upon it. Our local employers need tens of thousands of skilled workers for our most promising new industries but can’t find them. Housing is unaffordable, and young promising workers are moving elsewhere to seek their futures. New technologies are being created in our region and never commercialized. Export opportunities go unmet because our business people don’t know how to seize them.
These are issues that can’t be solved through an invisible hand acting on its own or through blanket tax cuts or cutting red tape. If the only rule that matters is individual profit maximization, then any problem that requires collective investment or burden sharing goes unsolved. Conversely, if the only rule is that government can do everything, then we may lose the dynamic influence of the individual profit motive in creating new solutions to these large challenges. We need a blend of the best of everything, and we need to be willing to accept that growing an economy is messy. None of us will get everything we want and no good solution will be ideologically pure.
As we look at our politicians, we should ask them to demonstrate that they are willing and able to provide specific solutions to the problems at hand. We should demand that their thinking be clear and that proposed solutions be thoughtful and reflect real-world data and facts, rather than talking points tied to ideological purity or warmed up proposals prepared by well financed political action committees.
We don’t run our businesses that way. Why should we ever tolerate such inflexibility and incuriosity in how our economy is grown?