Collaboration between the public and private sectors helped the U.S. economy recover from its last period of economic malaise, and similar collaboration is needed today, according to a key participant in the 1980s–1990s competitiveness movement.

In Building the Next American Century, Kent H. Hughes describes that movement, beginning with the conditions that stimulated it: stagflation in the early 1970s, declines in manufactured exports, and challenges from German and Japanese manufacturers. The United States responded with monetary and fiscal reform, technological innovation, and formation of a culture of lifelong learning. Although a great deal of leadership came from government, a new sense of partnership with the private sector and its leaders was crucial. Hughes attributes much of the national prosperity of the late 1990s to contributions from the private sectors. Hughes argues that a twenty-first-century competitiveness strategy with a system-wide approach to innovation, learning, and global engagement can meet today’s challenges, even in the demanding environment shaped by national security concerns after 9/11.

Kent H. Hughes, trained as both an economist and a lawyer, worked on economic ideas, publications, and legislation as a congressional staffer and participant in several presidential campaigns. He was president of the Council in Competitiveness and served as associate deputy secretary of Commerce during the Clinton administration. He is currently director of the Program on America and the Global Economy at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

For more about the book, see the author’s Dialogue TV interview or download the introduction as a PDF file.


Abbreviations and Acronyms

Introduction: Meeting the New Economic Challenge—Forging an American Dream for the Twenty-First Century

1. From Effortless Growth to the Era of Stagflation

2. The Search for a New Growth Strategy: The Policy and Politics of Prosperity

3. Looking Abroad for Answers: Pearls of Wisdom from the Global Oyster, Japan—the Samurai Surprise

4. Looking Abroad for Answers: Rising Germany, the Specter of Britain, and the Clash of Capitalisms

5. Congress Takes the Lead

6. Reagan Responds: The President’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness

7. Congress Acts on Trade and Competitiveness

8. Building the Base for Future Prosperity: The Private Sector and the States

9. President Bush Takes the Stage

10. The 1992 Presidential Election: The Campaign for Competitiveness

11. Competitiveness as National Policy: Turning Ideas into Action

12. The Gingrich Revolution and the Comeback President

13. The Competitiveness Strategy: Explaining the Past and Forging the Future

14. Competing for the Future

15. Competing for the Future: Strengthening the American Innovation System

16. Competing for the Future: Building a Better American Learning System

17. Competing for the Future: Global Engagement in the Twenty-First Century

18. America in the Next American Century

Timeline of Significant Events Affecting Competitiveness


“Essential reading for anyone interested in how the United States can maintain high living standards in a hyper-competitive world economy. Hughes has provided the essential context—past, present, and future—for the major policy debates of this decade. He has superbly described not just the challenges America faces, but also the opportunities ahead if the right choices are made.”—Jeffrey E. Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management and former Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade in the first Clinton administration

“The United States experienced two decades of deep anxiety over its national competitiveness from the early 1970s into the 1990s, with profound effects on both policy and perceptions. This new book provides a superb description and analysis of that key period and applies its lessons to America’s position in the world economy of the twenty-first century.”—C. Fred Bergsten, Director, Institute for International Economics

“Kent Hughes has written exactly the right book at exactly the right time. America today faces fundamental questions about its ability to compete and to maintain the American dream for its citizens. Today’s leaders would do well to read this book.”—Clyde Prestowitz, President, Economic Strategy Institute

“To fashion our response to the latest economic challenges from China and India, we need to know what we did in the early 1980s, when we faced tough competition from Japan and Germany. With Kent Hughes’s book, we can avoid spinning our wheels on issues that already have been thoroughly vetted. I have proposed that we create a new commission on competitiveness. Kent’s book explains what we learned from the first one—the Young Commission—and provides a superb grounding.”—Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman

“Given his personal involvement in this subject in key government and private sector roles, Kent is qualified uniquely, not only to put this subject in historical context, but also to take us forward, as he does with six broad and important recommendations to strengthen our American innovation system. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in American competitiveness, and that should be all of us.”—George M. C. Fisher, retired chairman and CEO, Eastman Kodak Company

“Will interest readers as much for its treatment of the dynamics of Washington policymaking as for its approach to the main topic.”—Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs

“A wide-ranging, in-depth account of national and international economic policy in the US during the post-WWII period. Highly recommended.”—Choice