The New Centrism

I don’t do much politics on this blog, but I feel like I have to say something about the demise of the Democratic Leadership Council, which helped bring Bill Clinton to the Presidency in the early 1990s. A lot of writers have interpreted the end of the DLC as the end of centrism, and a sign that Washington has become completely polarized.

My take is different. To me, we’re moving into a new era of centrist ideas, based around the importance of innovation and investment, creative thinking about regulation and jobs, and a greater appreciation of a global economy built around cross-border collaboration rather than “you-me” economic nationalism.

Rather than the center disappearing, I think we’re going to start seeing both left and right start drawing on ‘new centrist’ ideas. Let me just give a few of them:

*The importance of innovation for driving economic and job growth. When businesses try and innovate, we should reward rather than punish them, especially given the innovation shortfall of the past decade.

*The need to  think about investment in broad terms, including human capital and knowledge capital. Our conventional economic statistics, which measure only physical investment, are giving us a misleading view of the economy.

*The need to understand the true nature of the long-term fiscal and entitlement problem: The long-term rise in medical spending is a total reflection of falling or flat productivity in the healthcare sector. If we can fix that–through a combination of techological advances and institutional change–we can in effect grow our way out of the entitlement problem.

*The importance of rising real wages for young educated workers as a sign of the health of the economy. Real wages for young college grads have been falling since 2000–we cannot operate a modern economy this way, because our young people can no longer afford to pay for the education they need.

*The need to find some way to lessen the burden of regulation without losing touch with our social values. We need a systematic process for examining the thousands of regulations and carefully adjusting or removing the ones that slow down growth, while protecting public health, safety, and the environment.

*The need to think about the global economy in terms of supply chains which cross national borders. The U.S. needs to make sure that we are part of global supply chains and that we are getting our fair share of the benefits.  And we need new measures of competitiveness that take account of the new world.

I’m working on these ideas in affiliation with the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), where I am Senior Fellow.  Will Marshall, who helped found the DLC so many years ago, is head of PPI, which is vibrant and growing. Please keep an eye on the PPI website here as we aim towards the future.

About Michael Mandel 127 Articles

Michael Mandel was BusinessWeek's chief economist from 1989-2009, where he helped direct the magazine's coverage of the domestic and global economies.

Since joining BusinessWeek in 1989, he has received multiple awards for his work, including being honored as one of the 100 top U.S. business journalists of the 20th century for his coverage of the New Economy. In 2006 Mandel was named "Best Economic Journalist" by the World Leadership Forum.

Mandel is the author of several books, including Rational Exuberance, The Coming Internet Depression, and The High Risk Society.

Mandel holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

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