The United States’ ability to influence events abroad depends on the health of its economy, and many 2020 challengers argue that it is on shaky ground. Despite low unemployment and a record period of economic expansion in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, economists worry about slowing growth, rising debt, and uncertainty over President Donald J. Trump’s trade war.
Many experts point to rising inequality and stagnating wages, and some argue that, after a decade of rock-bottom interest rates and unorthodox monetary policy to help the economy recover, the government should be doing more on the spending side. Almost everyone in Washington agrees that there needs to be a massive investment in infrastructure, as the country’s crumbling roadways, rusting water pipes, and delay-ridden mass transit systems are costing the economy billions of dollars.
But disagreements persist over how much the federal government should do, and how to pay for it all. The 2017 tax reform, which cut both individual and corporate rates, was the most sweeping change to the U.S. tax system since the 1980s. Its proponents, including Trump, say it will boost growth and spur business investment while making it harder for firms to avoid taxes overseas. But critics say the policy is ballooning the already dangerously high U.S. debt and disproportionately benefiting wealthy individuals.
At the same time, more competitive foreign economies and the rise of automation are reshaping the U.S. labor market. Members of both parties have blamed global trade deals for the dramatic loss of manufacturing jobs, but many experts believe that new technologies are primarily responsible. Many policymakers want to respond by modernizing the education system to give students cutting-edge skills and retraining workers whose industries are being transformed. Some 2020 candidates, however, say more radical ways of helping workers are necessary—including a universal basic income, more protections for unions, and the breaking up of monopolistic firms.