President Obama finally gave the jobs speech he should have given on day one of his presidency. Too bad Americans by now have thrown up their hands when it comes to Washington. Unemployment is above 9 percent, and even if all the measures Obama proposed passed—which they won’t—that wouldn’t fully solve our problems. So we went outside the Beltway and gave some innovators and business leaders a challenge: you fix it.
We get the irony—corporate chiefs arguably helped fuel the crisis in the first place. Now they’re flush with cash, sitting on a hoard of nearly $2 trillion, and CEO pay is soaring. Yet business leaders are as infuriated as the rest of us with the grid- lock—and if nothing else, they know how to get things done. They offered us a boatload of specific policy suggestions, many of which already have some bipartisan support, from tax re- form to more visas for skilled workers to investment in hiring.
We were surprised and, frankly, encouraged by some of their solutions. Washington, you need to read this.
MY FIX: Here are three: (1) Increase exports by freeing up the backlog of free-trade agreements with South Korea and parts of Latin America. (2) Improve education in the sciences to make our grads more competitive. (3) Permanent corporate-tax reform.
MY FIX: Make cars smarter. Find more uses for the wireless devices that we already use to pay tolls and get directions. We could install a “Cinderella app” that won’t allow a 16- or 85-year-old to drive past curfew, or a “Prius meter” to keep tabs on energy efficiency.
CEO, NASDAQ OMX
MY FIX: I’ve got several that already have some bipartisan support. Issue more visas for high-level workers to keep foreign advanced-degree students in the U.S. Stop taxing U.S. companies on their foreign profits since most have already been taxed overseas.
CEO, HSN, INC.
MY FIX: Create jobs through “in-sourcing,” moving foreign call centers back to the U.S. and creating work-at-home jobs. Also, more big companies should partner with small-scale businesses, which tend to be more innovative and able to develop talent in niche specialties.
MY FIX: A bipartisan effort to bolster confidence, which in turn will spur consumer spending. Politicians should focus on stimulating the mood to create an environment in which people are beginning to feel comfortable and are willing to spend.
MY FIX: There are 8 million 18-wheelers in the U.S., each drinking somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year. But what if new trucks ran on natural gas instead? It’s 30 percent cleaner than diesel, and more plentiful.
MY FIX: For nearly five years, free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea have been completed but not implemented by the U.S. While we wait, other countries leapfrog us. The U.S. can restore its global competitiveness, but all of us need to engage and compromise.
MY FIX: At the local level, provide citizens with a menu of improvements and associated costs for their neighborhood. Allow people to pitch in toward the goal. If enough money is raised, the project is staffed and it begins. If not, the citizens get their money back.
CO-CHAIRMAN, LOEWS CORP.; COFOUNDER, NO LABELS
MY FIX: Create “militant moderates” who are neither far left nor far right, who will demand that politicians compromise. They should make it a point to vote in primaries to help nominate people of like political mind.
PRESIDENT AND CEO, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
MY FIX: Create as many as 1.3 million jobs by making it easier for tourists and business travelers to get to our shores. Safely reduce the visa, airport, and other hassles driving away potential visitors, and vigorously promote the U.S. as a global destination.
PRESIDENT, ECHOING GREEN
MY FIX: Every day I see thousands of young people around the country stepping up—a veritable “solutions corps” working on behalf of the problems they believe they will solve over time. Invest in them and get out of their way: that’s how we fix it.
FOUNDER, LINKED IN
MY FIX: Young people need to think about their careers more like a business, and to think about their brand. They need to learn how to differentiate themselves from the competition, how to have business intelligence to be the entrepreneurs of their own lives.
FORMER CEO, GENERAL ELECTRIC
MY FIX: A moratorium on new legislation would be wonderful. There’s too much regulation. The partisan battling is healthy: this is a big issue about the country’s future, and it has to be a hard fight. Go back in history—the Founding Fathers fought like crazy.
PRESIDENT, ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION
MY FIX: Let’s tap the large field of investors seeking real social impact as well as financial return. A bridge in need of repair can pay for itself through privatized tolls. Banks can put up the money to make schools energy-efficient and collect a share of the savings.
MY FIX: Move the Securities and Exchange Commission into the Justice Department, where criminal investigators, not bureaucrats, can police the financial world. The only thing that will scarethese Wall Street guys is orange jumpsuits.
MY FIX: Improve our terrible high-school dropout rate by encouraging colleges to offer early college programs, courses kids can take while they’re still in high school. Once kids take a college class successfully, they realize, ‘Hey I can do this,’ and have more motivation to stay in school.
CHAIRMAN AND CEO, HONEYWELL
MY FIX: We need an American competitiveness agenda that addresses the growing national debt through a combination of raising taxes and addressing entitlement and other mandatory spending; establishing a national energy policy that includes both generation and efficiency, making math and science education a priority with another “Sputnik moment”, rebuilding our infrastructure, and promoting free trade.
PRESIDENT AND CEO, JE DUNN CONSTRUCTION
MY FIX: Inspire confidence in the economy by addressing the national debt. If Americans feel good about the future, they’ll spend more money. The government also needs to unbundle some regulations that have been placed on businesses, including aggressive banking regulations that curtail the ability of business leadership to move their companies ahead and create jobs.