On an Economic Solution: Essay for October 15, 2011

If anybody can tell me what is going on with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, as Ross Perot once said, “I am all ears.” Are these people really victims of an economic malaise or a rabble encouraged by the unseen hand of conflicting sources?

It matters not to me. Whether they know it or not, whether they are tools or not, they are card carrying members of the Lost Generation. Their economic future is in the hands of someone else. Their choices are limited and their futures are in doubt. Surely, they are doing nothing to improve their economic situation by squatting in a park and mindlessly ranting on television.

Some would have us debate the threshold of wealth as if the taxation of the wealthiest of society would be enough to free us from the shackles of reckless financial management. “Tax the rich; feed the poor, till there are no rich no more.” And if it could not, and it will not: then what? We will still have a lot of people out on the streets, young and old asking the question: Whatever happened to my American Dream?
I could rant on and on about the many issues before us in this great land: the social issues, the personal liberty issues or the foreign policy issues. They pale in comparison to the economic issues.

It must be our solemn quest to restore opportunity to our countryman. This must be goal Number One. If our economy is not functioning, we will be focusing on the wrong debate at the wrong time. Perhaps we can set aside the rhetoric that panders to the primary fringe voters from both parties and focus on the one true issue in this campaign that should rightly dominate our discussions: the faltering economy.
The “fix” is not a simple one. Nor can it be simply stated. It calls for a concerted effort between government, business and education. It must start now. Time is catastrophically short. The overall fix is long term but it is one that will begin to yield results immediately.

There are three legs to the stool we must address immediately and well.

First, there is the business component. Simply stated, we must retain a manufacturing base that leans towards high technology and high value added activity. We must dispense with the image of manufacturing as a dirty and menial job. Modern plants of today demand highly skilled workforces who often work in office or laboratory-like conditions.

Secondly, we must revise our system of education. It must align itself with the manufacturing sector. We need to focus our efforts on the four pillars of science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects. These disciplines will serve to support the expansion and further development of the manufacturing sector.

Finally, there is a role for government. It was less than 30 years ago that the federal tax code was revised to give the United States the lowest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. It worked. Direct investment soared. The economy soared. Over time the rest of the world followed suit in lowering rates while our rates crept back up to where they are now. America is number one in having the highest corporate tax rate in the world. It is a dubious distinction. Direct investment, both foreign and domestic, is shrinking. Additionally, our regulatory burden is unnecessarily high. It is ambiguous. It is prohibitive. Our regulations must be focused on the common good of society not bureaucracy. The last meaningful review of regulations took place during the Clinton Administration. Our agencies have remained unchecked throughout the last decade.

Andrew Liveris is the Chairman of Dow Chemical. He heads up the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership initiative under the Obama Administration. He leans a little towards the left but makes eminent sense in his book, “Make It in America.” His recommended path is clear. First, make it easier for businesses to remain or locate in the United States. Second, remake the manufacturing sector into an advanced, high-value added industry. Third, create an economy that can sustain itself through long term job creation and economic growth. Fourth, prepare the next generation’s workforce for the challenge of a changing economy. And, fifth, improve America’s global competitiveness for the near and long term. I concur.

Amid the cacophony of the choruses from left and right there must be a way forward that both parties can agree upon. It is of no use to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. To carry the metaphor, we have already struck the iceberg. It is time to save the ship.

Press on.

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