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Economists Say Steep Challenges Await Next Administration


A panel of leading economists at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says whoever wins the 2012 election has his work cut out. Whether President Barack Obama wins a second term or Americans decide change is necessary, the economists say the next administration faces an uphill challenge. Among them are persistently high unemployment, a surging national debt and the inability of political leaders to agree on very much.

"Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years," said Obama.

"Since the president [Obama] has been president, the cost of gasoline has doubled," said former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Soaring gasoline prices

Even as America's political leaders argue over who has the better energy policy, most economists say there's little anyone can do in the short term to lower gasoline prices.  

The same goes for fixing Europe's debt crisis - or the slowdown in Chinese manufacturing.

But a panel of economic experts says there's no shortage of domestic problems that require immediate attention. The housing market remains weak. Income inequality in the U.S. is now among the highest in the world. And despite a slowly improving job picture, labor economist Ron Blackwell said nearly one in five Americans is either unemployed or underemployed

"Whatever it means economically, this is socially and politically unsustainable," he said.

Also unsustainable is the nation's rising debt, now approaching $15 trillion.

Add to that the increasing burden on American taxpayers as millions of baby boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964 - reach retirement age.

"This is going to be 40,000 per person in today's dollars in about 15 years. Multiply that by 7 to 8 million baby boomers - you're talking about $3 trillion per year or so in today's dollars, each year to pay the baby boomers their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid [health] benefits," said economist Laurence Kotlikoff.

Seeking elusive compromise

It's a scenario Kotlikoff said will eventually bankrupt the country if political leaders do nothing. But finding agreement will be difficult.  

With the majority of election spending now being financed by the top one half of one percent of the American population, former U.S. undersecretary of Commerce Robert Shapiro said a handful of wealthy donors can now dictate who gets what done in Congress.

"What that is doing is exacerbating a polarization, which has developed in the last 15 years - and a polarization that is particularly dangerous because it's a polarization that coincides with a nearly even division of the country," said Shapiro.

While the panel insists the slowly recovering U.S. economy remains among the most dynamic and most resilient in the world - Shapiro said today's highly contentious climate could lead to political paralysis on the most important economic issues of the day.

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