Or take Discover Magazine’s recent feature "Advice for the Next President." I was asked to opine alongside Edward O. Wilson, Steven Weinberg, Jack Horner, C. Everett Koop, Danny Hillis and others about ways to restore America’s position as world leader in science and technology. Several of us urged that science education should get top priority, and that Congress restore the independent advisory commissions that Republicans demolished, so that policy deliberations can be based on facts, rather than stories.
Important? Sure. But also pretty obvious.
And so, I refrained for a month, browsing what everyone else was saying, winnowing my own list down to only items that are different, unconventional... perhaps even a bit contrary.
Oh, I won’t claim total originality. A few of my suggestions may have appeared elsewhere -- just not to my knowledge. They range from slightly-skewed perspectives, to some that may seem arcane, or even bizarre. From nonpartisan and pragmatic to a few that are fiercely partisan. But when it comes to saving the Republic, can the earnest folk in the new government afford to overlook anything?
Let’s start with the economic mess. Then we’ll continue - bit by bit - to defense, foreign affairs, domestic policy, politics and, finally, some ideas that are really out there, on the fringe.
==THIS ECONOMIC CRISIS... AND THE NEXT ONE==
1) Offer a fresh deal to labor and management
It’s a new century and time to chuck some obsolete ways of thinking. Take this bemusing realization. On paper, the sum of all obligations owed to union workers, company health plans and pension funds would make organized labor by far the biggest net owner of capital in the United States.
By some ways of reckoning, the workers already own the means of production. This was actually foreseen a long time ago.
Indeed, for decades, both labor and management have sought ways to avoid confronting this fact - for example, by separating off pension funds to be controlled by neutral specialists. Labor leaders are comfortable with an old-fashioned, adversarial relationship toward management. The idea of sharing some hybrid role terrifies them. Moreover, a few experiments in worker-ownership - such as United Airlines - seemed to prove it a bad idea. (These were contrived-to-fail.)
But there may be no avoiding this issue, any longer. With unfunded obligations adding up to hundreds of billions, the pension plans need to start getting imaginative, or taxpayers will be stuck with that bill, in addition to all the others that are piling up. In striving to preserve an illusion, labor may risk losing everything. Meanwhile, American car companies with UAW contracts suffer a crippling competitive disadvantage against foreign automakers who pay far less for non-union labor, just a few states away. A situation exacerbated by the blatant, greedy corporate vampirism of a dullard, parasitical managerial caste.
Is the solution yet another a mammoth federal rescue plan? Not without a stiff price, please! There has to be a meeting of the minds, to thrash out an entirely new deal.
Everybody may have to give up something. Stockholders, much of their delusional equity. Managers, most of their recent crony-voted bonuses, even digging back some years. Unions, their illusions. And non-union states, their unfair intra-national advantage in cheap labor laws. Workers in Michigan might have to get NewGM or NewChrysler shares, in lieu of a third of their wages. Workers at a Honda plant in Kentucky may have to get used to becoming union men and women.
In fact, just after I wrote this in first draft, the United Auto Workers announced (December 3) that it is willing to change its contracts with U.S. automakers and accept delayed payments of billions of dollars to a union-run health care trust to do its part to help the struggling companies secure $34 billion in government loans.
That’s fine. We’re negotiating at last. But it still reflects a desperate will to avoid facing the obvious.
The unions and pensions funds should “defer” nothing. They should instead accept payment in the form of preferred, convertible stock in completely re-shaped and renewed companies. And if worker-ownership hasn’t worked in the past, then it is high time that due attention is paid to making it work.
What should not be accepted any longer is the illusion that stockholder equity in GM etc is sacrosanct. This is a bankruptcy reorganization, accept it. Get past it.
On a broader scale, this notion of holding a grand conference, at which everybody sits and everything is on the table, will be raised again, and again. After twenty years of partisan intransigence, we can no longer afford ideological impracticality. All parties, from environmentalists to free-traders, all the way to xenophobes, will have to gather up a new maturity and go back to the old, American genius at negotiating for the best deal -- the best positive sum game -- trading away a little, in order to get a little. So that we all can move forward.
More about this, soon.
Continue to the next posting in this series...
THIS IS PART OF AN ONGOING SERIES: Suggestions to the new administration
Part 1: Unusual Suggestions for an American Undergoing Change
Part 2: The Horn of Africa
Part 3: Radical Transparency
Part 4: Watch out for a supra-national Aristocracy
Part 5: Avoid a crisis caused by "just-in-time"
Part 6: Repair the U.S. Civil Service
Part 7: Free the Inspectors General!
Part 8: Micro-Suggestions about the Economic Crisis
Part 9: Restore the Army, the Reserves and the National Guard
Part 10: Enhance our nation's (and civilization's) overall resilience
Part 11: Control the borders
Part 12: Investigate Wartime Contracts
Part 13: Restore Independent Advisory Agencies for Science and Technology
Part 14: Insure the kids
Part 15: Truth and Reconciliation
Part 16: More Truth and Reconciliation: bring crooks to justice
Part 16b: Truth and Reconciliation Addendum
Part 17: Political Matters
Part 18: Time to do something about Gerrymandering
Part 19: Consider a few Crackpot items
Part 20: Seek Ways to End Culture War