May 1, 2012

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A Forgotten Virtue

Unity Makes Good Economic Policy

Natalie Gochnour

May 1, 2012

Just before penning this column, I took an afternoon run with my dog in Murray Park and received confirmation that spring is in full swing. I saw seven egg-size baby ducklings swimming with their mother in Little Cottonwood Creek. It’s a Kodak moment that I look forward to every year because it symbolizes renewal. Whether it’s ducks in a pond or economic recovery, we all love a bright new day.

Next month will mark the third anniversary of the end of the Great Recession. According to our country’s business-cycle dating experts (the National Bureau of Economic Research) the U.S. economic expansion ended in June 2009, even though it’s been a bumpy ride. Utah’s economy excels beyond national norms, but in both the Utah and national economies unemployment remains unacceptably high, wage growth too modest and housing too stymied. Economic life just ain’t what it used to be.

Full economic recovery has been slow for myriad reasons, many outside of our control. Rising commodity prices, debt struggles overseas, conflict in the Middle East and natural disasters have all deterred our return to full economic potential.

But there has been another reason… dare I say… and that is disjointed and clumsy economic leadership that fails to unify us behind common goals. Tax policy by the month, brinkmanship on the debt ceiling, an unpopular and anti-business healthcare law and failure to move important national priorities like energy, immigration and others forward have created economic ambiguity, indecision and insecurity. Uncertainty prevails, while unity is a forgotten virtue that holds the key to our economic renewal.

I join a cadre of economists and thought leaders who are calling for greater economic unity as America seeks to regain its economic leadership in the world.

The first pitch for unity that caught my attention was a thoughtful book by Peggy Noonan called Patriotic Grace. Noonan imparts an urgent, heartfelt call for Americans to unite and address the problems of our day. She writes, “The partisan gamesmanship, the focus-group cynicism, the base-playing: There’s only one base now, and it is our country.”

She says we need a post-partisan spirit that eschews the politically cheap and recognizes that division is not worthy of this time. It’s something she calls “patriotic grace.” Her book reminded me that properly placed patriotism would be a big boost to our economy.

Another bit of inspiration came from a 1952 campaign speech about the nature of patriotism by Adlai Stevenson. He defined patriotism as a national responsibility. He said we should, “Walk with it [patriotism] in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect to all mankind; a patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Love of country as a steady dedication of a lifetime … I like the sound of that. It means to put the public interest first and always. Unity helps us do that. But what do we unify to accomplish?

Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in their book, That Used To Be Us, argue for collective action on a large scale. They describe a formula for prosperity that includes five pillars—improving public education, modernizing infrastructure, supporting R&D, fixing immigration and implementing more sensible regulations. These pillars are a great starting point. We need the leadership and unity that will get the job done.

I’m ready for the economic renewal that can come from great leadership, properly placed patriotism and unity for the common good.

Natalie Gochnour is the chief economist at the Salt Lake Chamber.

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