Here’s the Biggest Thing Holding Back the U.S. Economy

October 12, 2016, 2:45 PM UTC

In the days after Sunday night’s town hall brawl, the national discussion unfolded over “who won” the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

As with almost everything these days, you can find an online survey or a pundit to support your worldview on the outcome—caveats be damned about the unscientific nature of these online surveys.

Absent from the round-by-round scoring of the debate was any substantive discussion of, well, the lack of substantive discussion during the main event.

Consider for a moment that 33% of Americans believe the economy is the most important problem facing the country, the highest of any single issue, according to a recent Gallup poll. And while Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say they want to talk about the issues voters care about, the economy wasn’t even a top-three topic Sunday, in terms of the discussion time spent during the second presidential debate.

No matter what your political persuasion, let’s agree that there were no real winners Sunday night—and roughly 323 million losers, a.k.a. the American people.

Surely, the world’s greatest democracy and (still!) the world’s largest economy deserves better than these two deeply flawed candidates. Arguably, American voters have gotten what we deserve for our collective lack of attention on the so-called “real” issues, and for rewarding politicians—of both parties—who focus on tactical political victories vs. strategic policy prescriptions aimed at benefiting their constituents.

Unfortunately, the breakdown of civility and rancorous partisanship is hurting the U.S. economy, too.

“Dysfunction in America’s political system is now the single most important challenge to U.S. economic progress,” according to Harvard Business School’s 2016 report on the state of U.S. competitiveness. “The U.S. political system was once the envy of many nations. Over the last two decades, however, it has become our greatest liability.”

Professor Michael Porter, co-chair of Harvard’s U.S. Competitiveness Project and co-author of the report, joins me in the accompanying video to address the fundamental question of the 2016 presidential campaign: Why can’t we do better?

Back in 2012, Harvard’s Competitiveness Project came up with an eight-point plan to unlock U.S. economic growth and competitiveness:

  • Simplify the corporate tax code;
  • Move to a territorial tax system like all other leading nations (to reduce or eliminate tax on the dividends U.S. multinationals receive from their foreign affiliates);
  • Ease the immigration of highly-skilled individuals;
  • Aggressively address distortions and abuses in the international trading system;
  • Improve logistics, communications, and energy infrastructure;
  • Simplify and streamline regulation;
  • Create a sustainable federal budget, including reform of entitlements;
  • Responsibly develop America’s unconventional energy advantage

While both candidates talk about those issues to varying degrees, Porter believes neither is doing so in a comprehensive, serious way. “The current presidential election is showing no signs of advancing a coherent plan to address these areas,” he says.

No argument here.

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