Competitiveness in the State of the Union Address – and the next steps

Without ever using the phrase, last night President Obama devoted a large part of his State of the Union address to economic competitiveness. As he reminded us:

We can’t afford another so-called economic “expansion” like the one from the last decade — what some call the “lost decade” — where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.
. . .
Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations — they’re not standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America.

The President outlined four areas: Financial reform (access to credit for business); Innovation — meaning R&D and clean energy investments; Exports; and Education. While each of these was narrowly focused, his remarks hinted at what could be a broader agenda. The President talked about innovation in terms of what the Administration has done in expanding R&D funding and investments in clean energy, and called for the passage of an energy bill. As I have argued before, that focus needs to be expanded to a full innovation agenda. He spoke of the need to make more products in the US and export them. That should be expanded to a manufacturing strategy. He spoke of the need to invest in the skills but focused on formal education — K-12, community colleges, universities. That needs to be expanded to include all forms of worker training including on-the-job training.

Obviously, there were a number of other topics that the President needed to address. However, in a 70 minute speech, President Obama did a good job of outlining the political and economic challenges we face. The next step is to flesh out the broader agenda needed to address those challenges.

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