THE 2009 economic stimulus package has come and gone. So, too, have the temporary payroll tax cuts of 2011-12. Most of the Bush-era tax cuts, in addition, have been made permanent. Yet the lasting effects of these policies have been meager.
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The results of these changes can be seen in two starkly different employment figures: since 2008, 3.1 million new jobs have been created for college graduates as 4.3 million jobs have disappeared for high-school graduates and those without a high school diploma.
Consider three priorities for this new, long-range perspective: infrastructure, energy and job skills. With a smart, ambitious strategy in these sectors we can encourage the creation of good jobs and begin to resolve huge problems of competitiveness and the environment.
If Mr. Obama were to stop angling for more temporary stimulus and instead put forward sound programs for job training, low-carbon energy and modernized infrastructure, he would most likely carry the public and eventually win the political battle.
For encouragement, he can look to history. Indeed, the United States government has a strong track record of success in such long-term public-private investment programs. Federal agencies helped support and guide the birth of the computer age, the Internet, the Human Genome Project, the federal highway system, the GPS revolution, the global fight against AIDS and, of course, the space program. Each was built on the painstaking political work of a president, backed by scientific experts and private businesses, and fashioned over many years.
All of the challenges above were daunting. We set out for the moon, John F. Kennedy said, not because it was easy but because it was hard. Likewise, those who think returning the nation to prosperity, economic fairness and a safe environment will be easy are only fooling themselves.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, a professor of sustainable development and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is the author of the forthcoming book “To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace.”
Modular building, a design approach that once focused on single-family homes, is becoming increasingly popular for multi-unit residences.
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