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Sorting out what ails the U.S. economy

While GOP candidates engage in Etch A Sketch theatrics, a Harvard study probes our real economic issues.

Rick Santorum

Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich gleefully used the Etch A Sketch as their weapon of choice this week to attack GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney.

To characterize the shift from a primary campaign to a general election campaign, a Romney aide said on CNN: “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

Santorum and Gingrich were elated. They thought they could use this Etch A Sketch line to argue that Romney has no core convictions and will walk away from conservative positions in the general election.

While they may clutch Etch A Sketches as campaign props in the short-term, the Etch A Sketch toy is no laughing matter in Ohio. The Etch A Sketch was made in Ohio for many years, and then manufacturing of the product was outsourced to China about a decade ago.

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Instead of smirking about the rhetorical misstep involving an Etch A Sketch, Santorum and Gingrich would be better off talking about what they would do to restore American competitiveness. Despite Santorum’s remarks to the contrary, a majority of 2012 general election voters will be thinking about the economy when they go to the polls.

Key problems

In an 87-page report in its March edition, the Harvard Business Review dissected what ails the U.S. economy and laid out the problems the country must face to regain its footing.

In particular, the business professors probed what U.S. companies and the federal and state governments must do to spur a healthy U.S. economy in a global marketplace.

Professors Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin wrote: “Lower American wages do not boost U.S. competitiveness. Neither does a cheaper dollar. A weakened currency makes imports more expensive and discounts the price of American exports — in essence, it constitutes a national pay cut.”

They argue the primary goal of economic policy should be “increasing productivity over the long run.”

As the U.S. slowly climbs out of the Great Recession, what will President Obama and his GOP rival do to make the United States a more hospitable place for business? How can the country attract more foreign investment in American businesses? How can the U.S. do a better job of educating employees?

Those are just a few of the key questions that should be debated in depth before November’s election.

Minnesota job picture

In Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development reported Thursday that 6,200 jobs were added by employers in February.

That’s a positive sign, but employers still need to restore about 75,000 of the 156,300 jobs lost during the recession.

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In the Twitter era, Americans don’t have much of an attention span.

But the challenges vexing American businesses and workers in a global economy are increasingly complex.

Obama and his Republican rival need to find ways to effectively educate American voters about the problems the United States is facing. Simply spewing clever sound bites won’t provide either man with the broad support that’s needed to successfully govern.

We’ve seen this week that campaign theatrics will gain a candidate some media coverage. But the American people deserve a better campaign than one that features grown men holding children’s toys made in China.

Fedor can be reached at lfedor@minnpost.com.