David Leonhardt on making tough decisions to fix the economy

People watch U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech.

In last night's State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama laid out his plans to keep the state of the union strong. He also said, that "our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget, decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery."

New York Times Washington Bureau Chief David Leonhardt has a new e-book out about that very thing, it’s called "Here’s the Deal" -- and it’s about the decisions and choices, some of them tough, that we have to make with respect to our debt and national deficit.

He says in part that our actions make it so that "we are pro deficit. We say we're not, we say the deficit is a terrible thing but then you come back to us and you ask us, are we willing to pay higher taxes? No. Are we willing to accept fewer Medicare and Social Security benefits? No. Do we want to make big cuts to the military? Mostly no. And that's really the deficit."

He says the answer to reducing the deficit and getting what we want is economic growth. And the federal government has to jump in and do things that the private sector won't do. It should be responsible for what amounts to basic research and innovation: "The Internet, radar, penicillin, the jet engine, radio all these things started as a government program. And they started because this really early stage stuff isn't profitable and you need someone other than the private sector to do it."

Leonhardt believes that despite the political divide in this country, we have the capability to get things right. He believes that America comes into the 21st century economy with more advantages than any other country.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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