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Instead, the world economy went into a tailspin. When recovery came, economic growth in all the wealthy economies was far more tenuous than before the oil crisis. Unemployment rates have generally been far higher, job losses more frequent, employee benefits less generous. Reversing the trend of the previous quarter-century, owners of capital have fared far better than owners of labor in almost every country. Nowhere have politicians succeeded in restoring the rapid, widely shared growth that their constituents were taught to expect.

The failure to bring back the good times is not for want of trying. The underlying problem, though, is one that governments can do little to fix: lagging productivity growth.

We Need Bipartisanship to Fix the Economy. That Seems Impossible Right Now

During the boom years, raising productivity was easy. Millions of sharecroppers and subsistence farmers were drawn into factory jobs where they did their work with advanced machinery instead of horses and mules. Large investments in education had an immediate payoff in the form of a more highly skilled workforce, and new expressways helped get goods to market more easily. Meanwhile, reductions in trade barriers forced companies to become more efficient if they hoped to survive.

But once that low-hanging fruit was picked, raising productivity became a far more difficult task.

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After growing about 4. Nothing governments have done — lowering taxes on business, deregulating and privatizing industries, funding scientific research, weakening unions, reforming education — has changed that trend. But while voters may see the problem in a political establishment that is out of touch, the populist politicians who are challenging that establishment are unlikely to fare better.

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In the short term, they may be able to medicate the economy with a big tax cut or a dose of deficit spending. When the effects of that treatment wear off, though, the effects of slow productivity growth will linger. This is not a counsel of hopelessness.

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  5. They are exceptions to the norm — a norm of slower improvement in living standards than any of us would like. The public may expect more, but our leaders have no way to meet those expectations. Marc Levinson. But the tension in America between the purely local and a far-off central government has never gone away.

    Nor, perhaps, should it in an ever-evolving democracy. These days, Republicans argue for a limited government, claiming that lower taxes and less regulation will encourage job creation.

    Ten Fair Ways to Reduce the Deficit and Create Jobs - Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

    Democrats advocate a more robust government, one that provides more services, pours more money into the economy and, in Obama's case, raises taxes on the nation's highest earners. Given the scripts, the question that ultimately determines who wins the presidency might be this: What do Americans want from their government? Larry Parkin, a conservative who hosts a discussion group on the Federalist Papers with the South Pinellas 9. Petersburg, Fla. The year-old Coast Guard retiree expects the country to secure the borders and protect the nation.

    Beyond that, he says: "I expect them to be less intrusive than they are. I expect them to have a limited role.

    The Problem with the U.S. Economy Isn’t Something Politicians Can Fix

    But he struggles to identify exactly where the line between too much and too little government lies. Ask Ashley Stilos, a liberal in Fayettville, Ark. Is it the government's job to make that playing field level? The year-old university loan specialist says: "They have the power to make it more equal, and it's their responsibility to do that. Americans' views of government have shifted in recent years, according to an analysis of Associated Press exit polls.

    In , more than half of voters thought government was doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. But by , a majority, for the first time, wanted government to do more to solve the nation's problems. That didn't last long after Obama took office.

    The Plan to Fix Our Government

    In quick fashion, he signed into law an economic stimulus plan and a health care system overhaul while presiding over the second installment of Wall Street bailout money. By , 56 percent of voters were back to saying that government was overreaching, while just 38 percent said government should be more active. It was the most government wary view among independents that the exit poll has recorded, with 65 percent saying government should do less, while 28 percent said it should do more. And the sentiments of independents, who typically decide close elections, generally mirrored Americans at large.

    But all that could change quickly, especially if these tough times persist, with 9. Against this backdrop, Obama is seeking re-election.

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    And a hour span last week showed the vastly different type of leader -- and view of government -- the nation will get if they choose a Republican over him. He and the others were posturing before a GOP electorate shaped by the tea party, whose existence can be attributed in part to a disgust by citizens over the growth of government -- and federal spending -- under George W. Bush, a Republican, and Obama, a Democrat. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said Washington needs to stay out of education and health issues, claiming: "We have the best results when we have the private sector and when we have the family involved.

    We have the worst results when the federal government gets involved.