Such moves would surely face resistance from lobbies. Pulling off the policy shift would necessitate decisive legislation and rigorous compliance requirements, as well as an orderly phase-in so that U.S. manufacturers can absorb the spending, create more capacity and hire more workers at good wages — all while avoiding inflation-inducing bottlenecks or extended shortages.
Despite generally high comparable labor costs here in America, an enlarged, modern manufacturing base could make our goods more competitive both at home and abroad. There are plenty of higher-wage labor markets in Europe and Asia that produce goods desired throughout the world.
There is another, more punitive, way of attempting to restore American competitiveness. During the last administration, America tried to wield the blunt instrument of protectionism — tariffs and related policies — in pursuit of restoration, but without any meaningful success.
In May 1932, another time when the economy was shaken, the American people divided and democracy threatened, Franklin Roosevelt issued a call. “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another,” he said. “The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”
Today, a long-term program to rebuild, expand and maintain public infrastructure, in the broadest of senses, is within reach. It could fuel U.S. competitiveness and improve household living standards for decades to come.
And the side of Wall Street that really matters is waiting, impatiently.
Mr. Alpert is a senior fellow in macroeconomics and finance and an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School. He is the founding managing partner of Westwood Capital and the author of “The Age of Oversupply: Overcoming the Greatest Challenge to the Global Economy.”
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