Exiting the downturn

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By Optic Editorial Board

It’s hard to be against big government in Las Vegas, since that’s our biggest business here. The state hospital is the single largest employer, while other federal, state, county or city jobs keep a lot of other workers away from the unemployment line. Meanwhile, three local colleges and two public school districts keep an enormous amount of money coming in, which boosts our economy in more ways than can be counted.

Still, we’re not immune to the ups and downs of the national economy, which hinges on private-sector employment, and there’s plenty of reason to be concerned about the current situation. The national unemployment rate is still high and, while businesses are once again growing, they aren’t necessarily bringing back the jobs lost in the recession of 2008-09.

Now, some economists are worrying that we’re going to “double dip” into a second recession, or at least suffer through a pitifully small recovery that won’t even top 3 percent in growth. Lingering unemployment — the result of technology advancements and outsourcing to overseas workforces — is cutting into consumer demand. Workers can’t spend as much, which makes it even harder to create jobs.

To emerge from this slump, it would be  smart to look at other nations who pulled themselves out of similar circumstances. Germany, for example, was facing similar circumstances in 2000 after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the merger of East and West Germany. The disparity between rich and poor, as well as high unemployment (jobs were leaving for other European nations), had the Germans in a tough spot. But instead of looking to quarterly reports, they took a more long-range approach. They forced new partnerships between management and labor, ramped up subsidies to keep jobs in Germany, and got corporations to team up with educators to create a workforce with the practical 21st century skills. Today, Germany is a success story, with high economic growth and comparatively low unemployment.

Of course, the U.S. is so polarized these days that such a cooperative approach might seem impossible. But Germany did it in the wake of an epic merger of two nations — you don’t get much more divided than that.

Maybe there’s hope for America after all.

To accomplish it, government must play a big role — bigger than it’s playing now. The Obama administration seems intimated by the Republican effort to demonize big government, when the real demon is staying the course to economic ruin. Change was President Obama’s mantra in 2008. It should still be now.