As Americans choose a new president in 2016, populist anger dominates the campaign. To hear Donald Trump or Senator Bernie Sanders tell it, America is either a global doormat or a sham democracy controlled by the “one percent.” These dark narratives are caricatures, but they do stem from a real dilemma: America is stuck in a slow- growth trap that holds down wages and living standards. How to break this long spell of economic stagnation is the central question in this election.
Today’s populists peddle nostalgia for our country’s past industrial glory but offer few practical ideas for building a new American prosperity in today’s global knowledge economy. Progressives owe U.S. voters a hopeful alternative to populist outrage and the false panaceas of nativism, protectionism, and democratic socialism. What America needs is a forward-looking plan to unleash innovation, stimulate productive investment, groom the world’s most talented workers, and put our economy back on a high-growth path. It’s time to banish fear and pessimism and trust instead in the liberal and individualist values and enterprising culture that have always made America great.