(CBS) Benjamin Ola Akande is dean of the business school at Webster University in St. Louis. In this open letter to President Barack Obama, he offers his opinions on how to revive the economy and America's spirit.
Dear President Obama,
During the campaign, you offered America hope and promised to restore a civility and practicality to the nation's highest office so that, together, we could rise to the challenges and opportunities that lay at our doorstep. Now it's time to make some wise choices.
In your acceptance speech on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008, you were pointed in your statement that, "while we breathe, we hope." As president, your greatest challenge will be effectively leading a Cabinet of highly qualified and highly opinionated individuals who will undoubtedly have differing ideas on how best to resolve the major issues we face. Your leadership will be tested early and often, and while you have assured Americans that there will be setbacks and false starts, your willingness to make tough choices early on will set the tone for a revival of a shell-shocked economy and a battle-fatigued nation. Yet, the fact remains that hope will not reduce housing foreclosures. Hope does not stop a recession. Hope cannot create jobs. Hope will not prevent catastrophic failures of banks. Hope is not a strategy.
I would like to offer 10 priorities to consider:
1. The Deficit: Don't be concerned about increasing the deficit in the short term. There is an urgent need to stimulate the economy now -- not at any price, but almost. Your recovery plan must combine tax cuts and structured spending in areas that foster long-term economic growth, specifically energy, healthcare and education. This is one time when we need to act for today to ensure that tomorrow will be much better.
2. The Auto Industry: I want to urge you to reject extending additional bailout monies to the Big Three. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is the best thing that can happen to these automakers. They need help quickly, but not in the form of government largesse. This is a time for "tough love" and not enabling poor performance, corporate arrogance and unwise decisions. They will thank you in the long run.
3. The New New Deal: There is urgency to rebuild America's roads and bridges, but the real opportunity is to anchor your recovery plan on a renewed energy policy that is timely and targeted. The imperative should entail: 1.) A green bailout for U.S. automakers; 2.) Green infrastructure; 3.) Tax credit for companies to produce alternative energy; 4.) A construction program for a new smart electric grid; and 5.) Increased investment in mass transit using green technology. The projects must be shovel-ready to get people back to work immediately.
4. 2009 Homeowner Protection Act: Now is the opportunity to change the bankruptcy laws to protect homeowners from the vagaries of the marketplace. We have expedited Chapter 11 bankruptcy for businesses to keep them from going under when they run into financial turbulence, and we should do no less for homeowners. It does no one any good to force poor and middle-income Americans out of their homes, and we know that vacant houses destroy even the best neighborhoods. An expedited homeowner protection plan would allow for the restructuring of the mortgages of millions of Americans who are under water. Stemming the flood of foreclosures will reinvigorate the confidence of banks and provide a shot in the arm for the credit market, putting the economy back on the right foot.
5. Strengthening Middle Class America: Your administration should push to expand the earned income tax credit as a relief measure for the middle class and give Americans making less than $150,000 a $500 tax credit per person on the first $8,100 in income. This will increase the rate of spending and the rate of savings by the middle class, which will be a source of new capital to spur growth.
6. A Health Plan for All: The greatest fear among most Americans is the possibility of losing their jobs; with the loss of jobs comes the real possibility of loss of health insurance. We need a comprehensive program that provides health insurance to the unemployed and to the uninsured, and it must happen post-haste. For a nation of our wealth to have any of our citizens go without heath care is nothing short of criminal.
7. Rewrite Financial Service Laws: One of the key reasons for the current financial crisis has been weak regulation of the financial services industry. There needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of enforcement policies of the Securities Exchange Commission. Require disclosure and stipulate new accounting requirements.
8. Restructure Bailout: The first $350 billion of the financial market bailout has done very little to jump-start the economy. The next $350 installment must be directed at assisting homeowners and expanding consumer credit.
9. Foster a Bipartisan Approach: Divisive politics got us into this mess - unifying politics can help get us out of it. The country can no longer afford to see things in terms of red and blue or black and white. The enduring solutions will emerge from the gray.
10. Caution to Consumers: President Obama, I urge you to use your presidential pulpit to speak to Americans, to encourage them to be cautious and prudent in their spending. While consumer spending is a key to the economic revival, at times it may be wise to counsel consumers to -- in the words of former St. Louis Fed President Bill Poole -- "Put their foot on the brake way before they get to the stop sign."
What America needs, more than ever, is your ability to give hope through your leadership. May you have the inner strength to move this nation from uncertainty to certainty. I wish you well.
Benjamin Ola Akande
11-November-2010Published in: St. Louis American
The pundits are still salivating over last Tuesday's election. What is evident from the results is that a good majority of Americans are not happy with the state of the economy. They want things to change and are holding our politicians responsible.
The U.S. electorate delivered a crashing rebuke to President Obama, just two years removed from a landslide presidential victory. The propulsion of the Republican Party to a nationwide victory has given everyone a lot to talk and think about. It is not like we didn't know what might happen after the polls closed and the numbers were counted. Pre-election surveys told us the GOP would be celebrating late into the night as more voters expressed their unhappiness with the nation's conditions and what the federal government is or is not doing.
According to the Pew Research Center, the country saw a repeat of 2006 with an overwhelming percentage of voters saying the nation was on the "wrong track." So they voted for the party out of power, giving Republican candidates 75 percent of their votes.
Yes, many cited a more negative view of economic conditions as the country continues to pull itself out of its worst recession since the 1930s. But voters also registered their opposition to a more activist federal government. A full 56 percent said government is doing too much and more should be left to businesses and individuals.
To this, St. Louis, I say, "Okay then." Let's do it. Let's fill in the gaps left by business or those that will be exposed if the newest group of legislators starts making cuts to our city, state and federal services.
No, I'm not asking you to take up arms to protect our borders if slashes are made in the defense budget. Neither am I expecting you to pave your own neighborhood's street. But I am asking you to reach out where no one else dares to stretch their hand; I ask that you take ownership of your neighborhood.
If you're a business owner, it is time to reach out to your community with jobs and services you can extend to put someone back to work or ease their struggle. If you are a community activist, it is time to reach out to those who have shut their doors to giving in the past and asking them once more to help their neighbors in need.
And if you are a mom, dad, sister or brother, it is time to reach out to our next and youngest generation. Reach out with yourself as a role model to show them how great our community can be for everyone, no matter who is in office.
I believe in leading by example, and as such I am committed to Beyond Housing's 24:1 initiative specifically focused on strengthening the 24 cities that are in the immediate vicinity of the Normandy School District. This is my small way of filling the gap. What are you going to do?