How Can Policy Help Left-Behind Americans?

By Charles Fain Lehman

A new project, announced Wednesday by the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center, aims to define a comprehensive program to help put regions struggling despite the roaring economy back on their feet.

The Struggling Regions Initiative (SRI), a project of the Center's Poverty and Welfare Policy program, is intended "to push the frontier of research into the issues facing struggling regions with the goal of developing new ideas for broadly shared economic growth," according to its website. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the SRI will focus on finding ways to overhaul federal policy in order to better support those regions that are increasingly left behind.

Samuel Hammond, who runs the Poverty and Welfare Policy Program, framed it as being about designing "the right framework," so that "ordinary workers can benefit from change rather than suffer from it."

"It's not Washington's responsibility to micromanage local economies or to pick winners and losers. Yet no one can deny that national policymaking has ripple effects throughout the country," Hammond wrote in an article introducing the project. "The Struggling Regions Initiative is premised on identifying realistic ways — from trade agreements to the structure of the tax code — to strengthen and diversify America's industrial economy, and in a way that promotes economic growth and dynamism."

Support for ailing regions is likely to feature heavily in electoral pitches from the left and right come 2020. What makes Niskanen's plan different is sort of sub-textual: In order to fix what's hurting these regions, it suggests, the American federal government needs to, for the first time in decades, articulate a comprehensive, coherent industrial policy. …

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