[IMGCAP(1)]Easily overshadowed during the past two years of economic struggle is the United States’ enormous potential.

With a diverse and vibrant society that enjoys the freedom and meritocracy inherent in our Constitution, culture and society, our nation should be the envy of the world. If these attributes are combined with our work ethic, drive for innovation and relatively abundant private capital, then we have a recipe for a bright and successful future. This cause for optimism is even more compelling when we add the historical ability of the U.S. to embrace and thrive on change.

So why, with so many potent weapons in our armory are we increasingly focused on the seemingly self-fulfilling and inevitable demise in our economic and social standing in the world?

Well, in many respects, the barriers to success can seem at best intimidating, at worst insurmountable. Why not obsess over our problems when they include a federal, state and municipal debt crisis; public sector budget deficits; a still slumping housing market; an underperforming education system and a rapidly crumbling infrastructure?

To unleash the full and enormous potential inherent within the U.S., the private sector, public sector and elected officials must stop the finger-pointing, and adopt the spirit and willingness to collaborate. It’s time for these three critical groups to come together—to compromise and collaborate—and take action.

Let’s look at what could be achieved if each of these groups were committed to the following actions in a spirit of mutual collaboration:

Private sector: It’s time for the leaders of our private sector to commit to strategies that elevate investment in innovation, research and development, training and education, and alternative energy. The private sector must embrace diversity and the opportunities and challenges of a truly global marketplace.

Leaders must be willing to partner with elected officials and the public sector—to invest in public-private partnerships that will improve our nation’s infrastructure. The boardroom must become the source of responsible business models that reflect a desire to reward all stakeholders, give back to our communities, and limit CEO and senior executive compensation to reasonable levels.

Public sector: The public sector must recognize that the years of excessive health and pension benefits are over. They must take a responsible and collaborative approach to work with elected officials to restructure existing legacy costs and agree on revised plans for the future—plans that better align benefits with those in the private sector. They must also be realistic about what is affordable. Collaboration—not confrontation—is the answer.

Furthermore, the public sector must aggressively pursue the operational efficiencies to be gained by adopting private sector best practices, an approach that itself can drive effective and beneficial collaboration. Finally, the opportunity to involve private capital responsibly in public sector assets and infrastructure development must be pursued as key to the revitalization of our nation’s transportation and communication network.

Elected officials: Elected officials have the opportunity to lay the foundation for private and public sector collaborative action. By simplifying our individual and corporate tax codes, eliminating loopholes, lowering effective business tax rates (which currently are some of the highest in the world), and embracing trade policies that encourage the free movement of people, goods and services across borders, we will invigorate the innovation, entrepreneurialism and creativity that are characteristic of our national health and vigor.

By taking meaningful steps to address our debt burden and budget deficits through bipartisan political effort, we can reduce the dead weight of entitlement spending, and set the tone for the requisite compromise and realistic decision-making that will set us on a path for real and meaningful growth. A bipartisan effort to work with the private and public sectors to champion the creation of a world-class education system would ensure long-term support for our future in a knowledge-based global economy.

Each and all of these actions require the agreement and compromise of the private sector, public sector and elected officials. It is time for the finger-pointing to give way to collaboration and action. It is time for respectful and serious dialogue among these groups that goes well beyond narrow self-interest—one that yields the “win/win” solutions for which the public clamors.
America has enormous untapped potential. A commitment to collaborative action will unleash it.
Stephen M. Chipman is chief executive officer of Grant Thornton LLP.

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