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Allison Schrager

Norman Rockwell's Economy Is Never Coming Back

Lawmakers are too focused on returning to the days when manufacturing ruled while the goal should be reducing the barriers to entrepreneurship.

The manufacturing economy is dying.  

The manufacturing economy is dying.  

Photographer: Howard R. Hollem/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Promising a return to a Norman Rockwell-esque past where everyone had great jobs, financial stability and a shot at the American dream makes for great politics but terrible economic policies. The current and last US presidents, perhaps recalling an economy from their glory years, are both guilty of this. Donald Trump ran on the explicit promise to “Make America Great Again” by reducing dependence on international trade and re-shoring manufacturing. Joe Biden also lets nostalgia guide his economic policies, which attempt to bring back the glory days of unions while restoring an economy based in manufacturing.

The economy, though, has evolved, and policies that might have worked during the heydays of our most recent presidents would have little impact now. The simple fact is that the US economy is no longer dominated by manufacturing, giving way to services. The way forward means policies that lead to a more dynamic economy by making it less burdensome to start a business, allowing for different kinds of work, offering education to workers of all ages and new models of unionization that provide independent workers insurance but still let them negotiate their own wages and hours.