A History Lesson for Hawaii Legislators

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Nineteen years ago, a group of leaders from American business, labor,
government and academia issued a report that raised alarm bells. The report argued that America’s ability to compete in world markets was eroding in the face of emerging industries and low-wage workers in Japan.

President Reagan’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness had a simple message: America’s workers have always been the best, most creative workers in the world, but they needed a strategy for competitiveness that was as innovative and creative as they were.


Rejecting arguments for protectionism, the commission recommended investment in keeping America strong in the world-wide economy — by promoting R&D of new technology, improving education and training, and lowering deficits to improve the cost of capital for business. It’s exactly the strategy America pursued in the late ’80s and ’90s, creating more than 35 million new jobs and producing the longest period of economic expansion in our history — including a whole new IT sector, whose jobs pay, on average, 75 percent higher than other jobs.

Our competitors have increasingly knowledgeable work forces that can compete for jobs that were once the sole province of the developed world. And that cannot be stopped or halted short of a worldwide catastrophe. There is much outcry over this new reality, but not much constructive action.

In the late ’80s, everyone from presidential candidates to unions to state legislatures to Congressmen were again offering protectionist proposals to limit or prohibit the practice. Jobs are a gut-wrenching issue. Companies
that source jobs overseas have an obligation to help workers left behind get
the tools they need to find jobs and succeed. But let’s not forget the
lesson history teaches us, that Japan itself learned as late as the ’90s,
from just such actions: When you build walls to protect your own workers, in the long run you end up hurting them.

Job losses to foreign countries were particularly painful after our economy
began a recession in mid 2000 and we are just now beginning to produce net
job gains. Spending our time building walls around America will do nothing
to help us compete for the millions of new jobs being created in other
nations. Instead, we must focus on developing next generation industries
and next-generation talent — in fields like biotechnology, nanotechnology
and digital media distribution; around issues like IT security, mobility and
manageability — that will create long-term growth and jobs at home, while
raising all of our living standards in the process.

That’s why the IT industry’s think tank, the Computer Systems Policy
Project, have invested $80 billion in R&D, capital expenditures, education
and employee training here the past 3 years alone. America is the most
innovative country on earth. It will not stay that way if we run away from
the reality of the global economy. We must do what Americans have always
done — work to keep our country in the lead, by making it the most
competitive and creative of all nations. The rest of the world is not

”’Hawaii resident Gayle Gardner is the former Hawaii spokesman for the Foundation on Economic Education and can be reached via email at:”’ mailto:gbg-piper@hawaii.rr.com

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