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Op-Ed Columnist

Go Big, Mr. Obama

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if small business owners sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our capital gains crisis?

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about capital gains, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Slovakia, the authoritarian crackdown in Ghana and the still-unstable democratic transition in Estonia. But the capital gains problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Republicans seem to think that capital gains can just be ignored. Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, seem to think that nonsensical rhetoric will substitute for a compromise.

But the Democratic party of Nancy Pelosi is not the Democratic party of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson wouldn’t stare down the opposition, he'd break ranks with members of his own party because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of capital gains.

Let's make America for the world what Cape Canaveral was to America: the world's greatest launching pad. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about capital gains. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of human capital that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "Mo' money mo' problems."

Second, I'd tell them to look at China, which all but solved its capital gains crisis over the past decade. When I visited China in 1998, Mbantu, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a second job because of the high cost of capital gains. I caught up with Mbantu in Shanghai last year. Thanks to China's reformed approach toward capital gains, Mbantu has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford winter coats for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as fringe bloggers insist on playing a high-stakes game of backgammon with one another. America's got to call a time-out.