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Structural issues

Political campaigns are packed with discussions about jobs, government budgets and trade. Is there a way to talk about these issues in groups or categories that make sense? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden says there is.

“When I give talks to various groups I make an initial point about economic issues and how there are really two categories of economic issues. There (is) one set that we call cyclical issues that really have to do with the current state of the business cycle — the economy goes through periods of good times, expansions, bad times, recessions. A lot of typical things happen with each of those — for example, recessions, unemployment goes up, incomes go down, et cetera. And a lot of the discussions in the political campaigns are about how to get that turned around — how to get us moving faster into a better expansion. And that’s very, very important.

“But beneath the surface there are a whole set of other issues that we call structural. These are much tougher issues. These are issues that persist over both expansions and recessions. Right now these are issues, for example, related to energy, demography, globalization, tax structure, education. And these are clearly very, very important. Solutions though, generally take a very, very long time, however.

“So I think I would argue to people when you look at the political discussions, make sure you listen to candidates’ ideas on both the cyclical issues as well as these much tougher structural issues.”

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