Stop The Whining And Get To Work

MONDAY, SEPT. 23, 1996

What do Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Joe Lunchbucket and two famous Philadelphia reporters have in common?

They gripe about the economy. And the first place they look for scapegoats and cures is government. These have become national traits here at the close of a century in which the opportunities of freedom and capitalism made the United States the envy of the world. But now, as competition toughens, Americans must sound to foreign ears like the world’s richest bellyachers.

Capitalism is spreading manufacturing jobs and economic growth to the Third World. Reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele of the Philadelphia Inquirer have documented the trend’s dark side.

Their message is tainted by the city from which it emerges - a Rust Belt city hurt by global expansion and corporate ruthlessness.

Instead of investing in competitive plants here, many U.S. corporations have let manufacturing jobs go overseas where labor works happily - in primitive but improving conditions - for much lower wages. With fewer blue-collar jobs, America’s urban underclass has grown. Stagnant wages, weakened unions, automation and a worsening federal tax bite have eaten away at the middle class. Meanwhile, among entrepreneurs and professionals, wealth still grows. So does the gulf between rich and poor. And various federal subsidies have aggravated these woes.

But in the long run, is federal power also the way to solve the problems? U.S. exports, consumers and new business opportunities would suffer if we tried hiding from global competition behind walls of protectionism. And it would be ironic for Americans to embrace socialistic income-redistribution schemes at the same time the rest of the world, inspired by our capitalistic success and socialism’s failure, embraces free enterprise. Is economic competition tough? Yup. But ultimately, it is constructive, too.

Americans still enjoy, overall, a good economy with low unemployment and steady growth. In Washington state, foreign trade has built a strong, diverse economy thanks to exports such as wheat, apples, airplanes and software. Yes, there’s a painful transition going on. But Americans possess some of the optimism - and all of the tools - needed to make the economy stronger.

Business begins close to home. The next Bill Gates is still a geek in some low-rent district hatching a product destined to create thousands of jobs. Instead of being obsessed about the domestic downside of global growth, Americans ought to concentrate on equipping and encouraging small business, which creates far more jobs than do downsizing, job-exporting multinational corporations.

Right here in River City, two young men launched one of the world’s best-selling computer games, Myst. A Spokane couple converted dried beans, recipes and spunk into a booming business, Buckeye Beans. There are similar success stories, modest ones and big ones, all across the nation.

What does small business need? Good public schools and accessible colleges teaching the real-world skills required for entrepreneurial success. Lower federal tax rates so there’s a reward for working harder, selling more, inventing and investing. A regulatory climate that’s constructive rather than persecutive.

Around the United States, smaller cities know it’s still possible to attract manufacturing jobs by offering a high quality of life and an educated work force that has a work ethic. That formula brought growth to Spokane.

No one can stop global trade, but it’s within every city’s power to develop an environment in which people with bright ideas and a work ethic can go back to school or launch a business.

Why whine? Build.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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