Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was recently in New York to promote The Four Percent Solution a new book from the Bush Institute which posits that the only way out of America’s current economic dilemma is significant and sustained GDP growth – 4% annual growth, to be precise. Watch my interview with the Governor below. I’ve also posted a transcription.
MICHAEL NOER: Governor Bush, thank you so much for joining us here today. We’re here to talk about a new book that’s coming out of the George W. Bush Institute, and it is called the–
BUSH: The Four Percent Solution
NOER: Now, what does that mean?
BUSH: Well, if you create through good policy, create a climate of sustained economic growth, much of the debate today about inequality of income and job creation would be a completely different conversation. And frankly, this isn’t pie in the sky kind of talk. This could actually happen in the United States. Very few countries could actually aspire to a high growth strategy. And we can and we should.
NOER: And you mean four percent GDP growth?
BUSH: Four percent real growth in the economy over a sustained period of time turns compounding into our friend instead of our enemy.
NOER: Now, a skeptic might point out that if we look back, since World War II, we’ve averaged about three percent, and we’ve had periods of four percent growth. What is the magic that’s going to bring us to above tend line growth?
BUSH: Well, I think what the book advocates is a comprehensive strategy: an immigration strategy true to our heritage, an energy strategy that’s based on American innovation and our own resources to start with, a tax strategy that simplifies the code and unleashes the entrepreneurial spirit of the country, a regulatory strategy that deals with the fact that we haven’t really reformed regulation. We’ve just added regulations on top of rules. And it’s choking off sustained growth.
So there’s no one silver bullet. Education policy that assures that more than just a third of our kids are college and/or career ready after we spend more per student than any country in the world. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit.
NOER: Let’s talk about education for a second. That was one of your keystones when you were governor of Florida.
NOER: You were certainly very supportive of the charter school movement. This is amazingly intellectually hard-hitting book. There are a lot of really great contributors. And there’s a chapter about education quality, education quality in the United States. Bringing us up few basic points would have this tremendous multiplier effect for the country. How do we get there? I mean, it’s not spending more money on the schools. We’ve been doing that for years.
BUSH: So, you know, if you use the Pisa test, if you move up 25–
NOER: Explain for our viewers –
BUSH: Pisa is the test that’s administered to 15 year-olds in the OECD countries. And we’re in the middle or the back, depending on whether it’s reading, math or science. And if you move to the middle, you end up creating hundreds of billions of dollars of additional income for people. In effect, the higher the education outcomes for students, the greater the probability that they can create income for themselves and their families.
And we need a transformation. This is a struggle for sure, but it’s doable. High standards, accountability around those standards, accurate assessments of those standards, a focus on literacy in the beginning grades, higher quality courses in the later grades, the ending of social promotion, school choice, both public and private, in my opinion.
Then finally, moving to a-competency-based model, not time spent in the classroom, but completing tasks. This wacky thing called the Internet creates content opportunities that just defy the imagination. You can move to a customized learning environment now. But that means changing in 50 states an array of rules that cloak off ingenuity and innovation. And we need to do it quickly.
NOER: Let’s talk about immigration. Immigrants have driven economic growth in this country to a tremendous degree. And Gary Becker, the Nobel Laureate, writes a nice chapter in the book, talking about how some of the demographics that are changing in Mexico: lower birth rates, greater economic opportunities at home. I mean, people don’t really want to leave their home to come here. They come here for economic reasons.
NOER: And so, we’re going to probably be facing a world where we want more immigrants to come. I know that comes as a shock for a lot of people, who have been like “Keep them out. Keep them out”. But we need them to grow. And he proposes something really kind of unique: Auctioning off legal immigration. What are your thoughts on that?
BUSH: I read that, and I just thought it was a really intriguing idea. I don’t know exactly how it would work. But if Gary Becker says it’s a good idea, the guy won a–
NOER: He’s worth paying attention to.
BUSH: Anybody that’s got a Nobel Prize in their title makes you take note. It’s clear to me that we’re politically, we’re fighting last year’s, last decade’s battle as it relates to immigration, and not focus on the fact that our demographics and the demographics of our neighborhood have changed radically, and that we should change our immigration system completely. I mean, I think the idea of quotas by country is obsolete. The idea is what kind of people do you want to come to the country and reaffirm what being an American is.
NOER: And what built the country, frankly.
BUSH: Immigration, the beauty of it is it revitalizes all of us, not just those that arrive, but everybody. Because immigrants, more than any other group, embrace American values. They know what they are, for starters, which would be a nice thing for all of us to have. And they bring energy and vitality that’s not taking things away from people; it’s actually adding tremendous value.
So without a completely different immigration policy, there’s no possible way the United States could grow at four percent over a sustained period of time. But with it, there’s no reason why we can’t. And that distinguishes us to every other country in the world, frankly. I mean, other than Canada and maybe Australia, who’ve embraced this kind of strategy, the United States is, you know, poised for sustained growth because of it.
NOER: If we can turn to current events for just a second, when you were governor of Florida, you had a very broad support base. Lots of different types of people supported you. Well, you may remember something different, but I think largely true. Whoever is going to be the next president of the United States is going to be facing a nation that’s fairly divided right now, fairly divisive. What can they do, whether it’s Romney, whether it’s Obama, to build a broader consensus? Because without it, nothing’s really going to get done.
BUSH: I think the problem in American politics today is that it’s not solution-oriented. It’s, you know, jibber jabber on both sides. It’s just you’re winning debating points rather than the efforts to try to lead to a consensus. I just finished reading Robert Caro’s book on Johnson during the six weeks after the Kennedy assassination.
That’s the exact opposite of what we’re living through today, where Johnson used these incredible skills to accomplish a 25% cut in income tax rates across the board, a reduction in the budget, by the way, from $101 billion to $98 billion, and the most meaningful civil rights law change, all in a six week period.
It takes leadership. And the conversation changed because he did not let people up for air. I mean, he was all in. And that’s what needs to happen. And I think what the next president will find is if they do that, if they actually lead, people will follow. Right now, I think people seem to be, in politics, a little scared of their shadows.
NOER: Interesting. If there’s one thing that you would say that’s missing right now from the national debate at the presidential election level, what aren’t people talking about that maybe they ought to be?
BUSH: Well, to me, it’s this conversation right here. You know, if we’re going to have a debate that looks more like Europe, where you’re fighting between raising taxes and cutting spending, and end up doing both, this austerity ends up creating a vortex downward. And you know, we need to limit government for sure, but to create opportunity, you have to create a climate of sustained high growth.
And that’s not what this debate is about yet. Now, you know, we’re still relatively new in the election process. It’s July. My hope is that Governor Romney will use this as an opportunity to lay out a dramatic shift of policy. Not just to say the President’s failed, but to create an alternative. And the president would have to respond in kind. And then, this could be a transformational election.
this interview appeared on Forbes.com