Whichever candidate is elected president of the United States Tuesday, he is going to face the same collection of economic problems.
And those problems -- a credit crunch, recession, limping stock market, growing international protectionism, a burst housing bubble with the attendant mass foreclosures, inflationary pressure from the bail-out, rising unemployment -- are all adding up to a perfect storm of economic woes, with the potential to play upon each other and create even more nasty system effects.
What this means is that for perhaps half of the first term of the new president, he will likely be unable to implement most of his social programs and deliver on his campaign promises ... but, instead, will spend most of his time focused upon economic triage and be at the mercy of larger social forces.
And that doesn't even take into account the fact that the new president, whoever it is, will (in Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden's words) likely be seriously tested by one or more of the bad guys around the world. If that occurs, and the odds seem pretty high, then whatever dreams the president-elect had when he decided to run for office, the reality will be a lot closer to trying to successfully navigate the ship of state through rock-strewn raging rapids.
The crucial challenge, then, for the new president is to figure out how to nurse the U.S. economy back to health -- and quickly. Only a healthy economy can create the wealth needed to implement all of those changes the candidates have promised. Only a strong economy can absorb the next generation of workers, pay for added health care and lift the poor upwards to a better quality of life.
Happily, both candidates seem to understand that.
Unfortunately, neither one seems to have a realistic strategy for getting there.
There's a good reason for that. Sen. Barack Obama, being a Democrat, seems to have very little idea of how the economy actually works and ritually evokes business not as the only true creator of wealth in our economy, but as a predatory menace.
Sen. John McCain, being a Republican, has a marginally better understanding of the economy and the role of business -- but his attention, as usual with GOP elders, is focused upon established companies, which undergird our economy, but do little to create new jobs or new wealth.
What is missing from the economic debates of this campaign -- as it has been from every presidential campaign at least since the Reagan years -- is a recognition of the absolutely central importance of the entrepreneur to the health of the American economy.
Entrepreneurs, and the new companies they create, are the source of almost all of the new jobs, the new wealth, technological innovation, revolutionary new products, positive balance of trade, and improvements in productivity (and thus, international competitiveness) in the U.S. economy.
Yet, in the debate over how to 'fix' America's current economic mess, they are the forgotten men and women. They alone have the ability to not just slice the economic pie more fairly, but actually make it larger, rewarding everybody -- just as they have over the past century.