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Put Growth Back on the Political Agenda

The Wall Street Journal

April 18, 2024

In a campaign season dominated by the past, a central economic topic is missing: growth. Rapid productivity growth raises living standards and incomes. Resources from those higher incomes can boost support for public goods such as national defense and education, or can reconfigure supply chains or shore up social insurance programs. A society without growth requires someone to be worse off for you to be better off. Growth breaks that zero-sum link, making it a political big deal.

So why is the emphasis on growth fading? More than economics is at play. While progress from technological advances and trade generally is popular, the disruption that inevitably accompanies growth and hits individuals, firms and communities has many politicians wary. Such concerns can lead to excessive meddling via industrial policy.

As we approach the next election, the stakes for growth are high. Regaining the faster productivity that prevailed before the global financial crisis requires action. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates potential gross domestic product growth of 1.8% over the coming decade, and somewhat lower after that. Those figures are roughly 1 percentage point lower than the growth rate over the three decades before the pandemic. Many economists believe productivity gains from generative artificial intelligence can raise growth in coming decades. But achieving those gains requires an openness to change that is rare in a political climate stuck in past grievances about disruption—the perennial partner of growth.

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