Five Pieces of Advice for the Next US President
The candidate who wins next month’s US presidential election will lead a polarized country still struggling to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and an ailing economy, as it continues to reckon with its history of systemic racism. We asked a number of faculty members for the advice they would like to offer the White House. Their responses touched on a number of pressing issues, including climate change, protectionism, fiscal health, and political disunity. We will be publishing additional faculty advice post election.
S.T. Lee Professor of Business
I’ve made my career studying choice – how we pick, choose, react to different options, and how these differ across cultures. I believe our ability to choose is not amazing because we can pick from several choices presented to us. It’s amazing because we can choose to solve problems, we can combine ideas into entrepreneurial ventures; in short, our ability to create and innovate on seemingly intractable problems - that’s where our ability to choose is most vital.
My advice to the next president is not any specific policy prescription. Rather, I urge the next president to allow for unencumbered scientific research, encourage innovation to seek out those ideas which make us better as a nation, and to work tirelessly until they are seen through. A diversity of perspectives, experiences, and ideas is what we need to address the challenges which face us. Innovative research and problem-solving must not be muddied by a political agenda.
Leon G. Cooperman Professor of Finance and Economics
Be boring. Provide lots of information, but no drama. A serious affliction currently plaguing us as an economy, as communities, and as human beings, is fear. Fear is scarring us psychologically. Fear is rewiring us to be less trusting of others and more averse to reaching out, in any form. Fear is deterring us from taking risks. It is risk-taking that is the engine of growth of the US economy. No risk, no return. Scarring can set in quickly and takes a long time to heal. The sooner the healing begins, the faster the recovery. That is as true of economies as it is of human bodies. To heal, we need a respite from uncertainty. We need predictability. We desperately need boring.
The rise of zero-sum rhetoric in US politics is alarming. Although the identity of the much dreaded “them” changes, the “us vs. them” rhetoric used by both liberal and conservative politicians stays the same. They are taking our jobs. They are ruining our country. They are making a killing, while we are the ones being killed. This zero-rhetoric is dangerous, as it erodes trust in society, diminishes prosocial behaviors, and increases people’s desire to dominate others. For example, my research has found that the belief that immigrants take Americans’ jobs pushes people toward hateful and xenophobic policies.
Although politics can often be a zero-sum game, policy needn’t be that way. The next president’s burden will be to shift the political narrative away from zero-sum rhetoric and towards the shared and overarching goals that unite Americans. Because of the intuitive allure of zero-sum thinking, this will not be an easy feat to achieve. Yet, societies flourish when people opt to cooperate rather than compete, choosing to view life for what it is—complex, intricate, and decidedly non-zero-sum. By focusing on connections and commonalities that tie together the seemingly opposing needs and interests of different Americans, well-crafted policies have the potential to create value for all. Keeping clear of pernicious zero-sum rhetoric will help achieve this goal. Hopefully, the next president will agree.
I would suggest the president provide workers and employers with a health and an economic roadmap until we have a widely distributed vaccine.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US in March, measures of economic uncertainty skyrocketed. Since then, we have had time to develop a public health and economic strategy to keep many sectors of our economy partially intact while supporting those that are more profoundly affected.
Instead, many measures of economic uncertainty – along with the number of COVID-19 cases across the US – continue to climb or have plateaued. Tens of millions of workers and millions of employers are uncertain about whether, when, and for how long additional federal assistance will come. Employers that are open for business are muddling through crucial tasks such as developing their own COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and reporting policies.
To reverse these trends, the federal government needs to yield not only its powerful resources and expertise, but critically, its ability to convene and to coordinate.
Governors and mayors should also be involved to prepare a national-level response. We have missed many opportunities to adopt a coordinated approach to COVID-19, but many remain. Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine will be one of the largest and most complex vaccine campaigns ever. Begin working with states on day one to ensure that they will have financial resources and fill in the details of the current distribution sketch. In the interim, provide funding, expertise, and coordination for public health measures such as states’ contact tracing programs.
The president should convene business leaders, labor unions and other employee groups, and occupational health experts from different industries to develop a roadmap for each industry. Most importantly, devise a federal assistance plan to support workers and employers in industries such as restaurants, theaters, airlines, and theme parks and commit to it until there is a widely available vaccine. For industries that are less acutely affected, devise plans and mandates to prevent COVID spread. For example, develop mandatory standards for large employers’ reporting of COVID-19 testing and cases among their workforces.
The next administration should address pre-existing, fundamental flaws in our health insurance system and labor laws that are exacerbating COVID’s impacts on vulnerable and disproportionately burdened groups of workers.
Professor of Professional Practice
This is a defining moment for America. Each side in this election experienced fear and anger fueled by their belief that the other side is destroying some of America's shared values. Each side wished to reclaim the nation. One side won.
Your mission, Mr. President, should not be to reclaim the nation, nor to simply reunite the nation, but to remake it. This remaking will happen not by you lighting a fire under all policies and practices pursued by your predecessor, but by you lighting a flame in every home and every heart. For it is when we commit, as a nation, to remaking our families and remaking our own selves that we will give the fullest expression to those timeless ideals of good government, nationhood, and humanity that are enshrined in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the Eleanor Roosevelt-led Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech.