February 4, 2012
President Clinton on the Future of the Democrats and AmericaBy Sam Mikolaski
Not only Republicans and independents, but also Democrats especially should pay attention to what Bill Clinton says in his recently published book (Back to Work, 2011), timed to affect the sentiments of American voters as we approach November 2012.
While tipping the hat to some of Barack Obama's policies, this is not an apology for President Obama's presidency, nor is it a subtle push for Hillary's advancement to the Oval Office.
The book represents not only President Clinton's own views. During the writing and editing, he sought critical opinions from prominent members of the Democrat establishment (beyond Hillary and Chelsea), including Bob Barnett, his lawyer; Doug Band; Oscar Flores; Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster; Bruce Lindsey; Terry McAuliffe; John Podesta; Matt McKenna; and Mark Weiner. He thanks Justin Cooper for research and collation of data, though the book is clearly Clinton's.
President Clinton does not get bogged down in the paralysis of analysis. While the first part of his short book of 196 pages analyzes Where We Are (3-113), the remaining 83 pages, over 40% of the book, address What We Can Do.
Here is President Clinton's forty-six-item to-do list, punctuated by his segmentation. Does the order of listing and grouping suggest prioritization?
1. End the mortgage mess as quickly as possible.
2. Allow government-backed mortgagors to refinance at current low rates.
3. The Federal Reserve should give banks an incentive to lend.
4. Give corporations an incentive to repatriate profits.
5. Do not tax repatriated profits if reinvested to create new jobs.
6. Pass President Obama's payroll tax cuts ... and a tax holiday for net new jobs created.
7. Build a 21st-century infrastructure.
8. Speed up the process for approving and completing infrastructure.
9. Launch an aggressive 50-state retrofit initiative.
10. States and localities should have their own retrofit initiatives.
11. Get the pension funds involved.
12. At least paint the roofs white.
13. Reinstate the full tax credit for new green-technology jobs.
Here are some related job-creating ideas:
14. Finish the smart grid, with adequate transmission lines.
15. Available geothermal energy should be increased.
16. Turn landfills into power generators.
17. Develop our natural gas resources.
18. Keep developing more efficient biofuels.
19. Keep tax credits for producing and buying electric and hybrid vehicles.
On Energy: Use the military as a large investor with cash clout.
20. The military can and should do more to speed our energy transformation.
Three other things re: energy to help the economy:
21. Speed up efficiency rules for household appliances.
22. Spend the rest of the rapid-rail money - where it will do the most good.
23. Support state and local innovations, and encourage their adoption across the country.
24. To speed up the process: pick one or two states and work to make them energy-independent.
25. Concentrate on high-end manufacturing and getting smaller companies into exports.
26. Negotiate long-term contracts to sell food to China, Saudi Arabia, and other nations facing food shortages.
27. Pass the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
28. Enforce trade laws.
29. Concentrate on increasing the export potential of cities, not just states.
30. Export more services.
31. Get to emerging opportunities before others do.
32. Sell, sell, sell.
33. Increase the role of the Small Business Administration (SBA).
34. Promote "crowdfunding" to help small business raise capital.
35. Fill the three million jobs that are already open faster.
36. Provide extra incentive to hire people who've been out of work more than six months.
37. Give employers an incentive not to lay off workers in the first place.
38. "Insource" jobs we've been outsourcing.
39. Support "insourcing" by increasing the number of empowerment zones and expanding the reach of the New Markets Initiative.
40. Encourage more young Americans to get degrees and take jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields (STEM).
41. Push for comprehensive immigration reform, but in the meantime grant more visas to immigrants with STEM qualifications.
42. Bring more tourists to the United States.
43. Promote affordable opportunities to "buy American."
44. Support National Jobs Day... one million companies should hire one more employee.
45. Offer an X Prize for ideas that promote innovation and job creation.
46. Replicate the prosperity centers.
Without nitpicking, substantial questions can be asked:
Throughout the book, President Clinton picks at what is to him a very large bone, which he identifies in his opening chapter as Our Thirty-Year Antigovernment Obsession. But surely the past three years of government takeovers and massive government debt-spending should flag concern by the electorate. Much of what Clinton proposes entails massive, top-down, direct government intervention in the economy. Haven't we had quite enough of that for a spell? The conservatism I observe and study does not exclude government, but wants to keep its functions and powers within the often ignored enumerated constitutional limits.
Not a little of the progress Clinton seeks depends upon enhanced results from public education, especially among the young and in the sciences. However, the data he cites are disturbing. Consider the 2009 data for the percentage of population that has attained higher education, the 55-64 age group, and 25-34 age group: the best is South Korea, something over 10% for the older group but about 65% for the younger group. Canada is second, 40% and about 58%. The G20 Group, about 21% and 37%. The OECD, about 21% and 39%. The USA, both groups at approximately 41%. One should relate those statistics to the 2010 high school graduation rates he cites: USA ranks 18th among 25 countries, Germany is first with 99.5%, Finland 96.8%, Greece 96.2%, and Japan 93%. Of course, one must define "high school" as to what type of school and who is admitted. For example, California years ago abandoned its vocational high schools, with a devastating drop-out rate resulting from the current so-called "college preparation" curricula in all high schools (some of that disaster is now being reversed by vocational programs in the community colleges).
Clinton's urging speedy implementation of on-the-table trade agreements (#27) is a rebuke to the economic dilly-dallying of the Obama administration.
Bio-fuels production sounds smart, but, for example, what are we doing to the use of corn and its price except increasing food costs, creating scarcity, and, in some cases, increasing the number of those who go hungry? Why have we given up allowing the open market test of try-succeed-fail-at-your-own-risk to determine what is economically viable?
Extra incentive -- of what sort? -- for businesses to hire people who have been out of work for six months is an admission that present economic policy and the policy of paying unemployment benefits for up to ninety-nine weeks in some instances are not working. They are in fact creating a permanent dependent underclass.
President Clinton encourages that more prosperity centers be created, such as the biological sciences and genomics science (DNA sequencing) industries here in southern California, where there are more Nobel Prize-winners in the sciences than anywhere else in America. It should be noted that these are substantially funded by private entrepreneurs and capital.
Allow me, a plebeian citizen, my two cents' worth of suggestions to the patricians, as strategic policy changes that would electrify the economy.
First, return initiative to the fifty states (and gradually curtail the massive encroachment of federal powers not constitutionally enumerated). The latter will take a very long time; the former could have instant impact. Take the issue of federal control of lands and energy independence. If one draws a line from North Dakota to Texas, most of the land west of that line including Alaska is controlled by the federal government. If each state could take the initiative to "drill, baby, drill," we could easily become energy-independent within ten years. Just the announced intention would instantly undercut OPEC and galvanize investment and job-creation, as it has in North Dakota, where state lands are controlled by North Dakota. We will have lots of time during the next few years to scientifically research and to engineer alternative sources of energy that are economically viable, which will allow us gradually to wean ourselves off dominant fossil fuel use.
Second, cut, cut, cut regulation that is stifling small business. President Clinton speaks in generalities about small business, but we need specificity. Let's tax consumption, not productivity. Let the market test and prove viability without subsidy. Stop hamstringing small business, especially here in California, which is forcing many businesses to evacuate to Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.
I know a couple who own a small business which employs eight people in addition to themselves. They have struggled to hang on to their employees during the slump in the hospitality industry, which has been hit worse than other industries. They are overwhelmed by government regulations and paperwork, but they are not large enough for corporate lawyer defense -- only the services of one lowly accountant. They have hung on to their employees not because of regulation, but despite regulatory strangulation. They have not needed the incentives which Mr. Clinton advocates in #37.
This book aims to transcend the standoff and economic impasse that Barack Obama's policies have generated. For me, the book says to the Democratic Party and to all America, "Let's get beyond Obama."
There is a moving, strong whiff of nostalgia which wafts throughout these pages: old times, times when collegiality, both personal and inter-party, characterized relationships on Capitol Hill. President Clinton does not say that "this has evaporated during the tenure of Barack Obama," but what else is one to think?
Think of Ronald Reagan on the stage of the Ford Theatre mimicking Victor Borge's hilarious phonetic punctuation routine, while, in the audience, Tipp O'Neill, to whom the mimicking was addressed, roared with laughter. Those were the days!
Sam Mikolaski is a retired theology professor. His curriculum vitae and published work are on his website: www.drsamstheology.com.
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