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9/22/05

Quid Pro What?


 

By Carolyn Kay

Tony Auth, Universal Press Syndicate

Hurricane Katrina ripped the roof off the New Orleans Superdome and the mask off the pretense that we Americans can have our cake and eat it, too.  That we can have foreign wars without depleting our emergency response capability at home.  That global warming is not happening, so we need not prepare for it.  That we can neglect the nation’s physical infrastructure without paying any consequences.

We can only hope that the awakening will extend to the realization that other prevalent American beliefs are myths, as well.  That we can have tax cuts for the rich without creating a huge deficit for future generations, for instance.  Or that we can destroy the American middle class and still have a strong and vibrant economy.

Why are America’s business leaders silent on these issues?  The litany of recent announcements should be enough to make even the most rabid, anti-tax right wingers stop and think.

Respected climatologists believe that global warming is causing more and stronger hurricanes.  And ice cap experts keep reporting on the melting of ice at the poles, which could raise sea level by as much as 20 feet,  submerging coastal areas all around the world.  Will not the resulting disasters provide more disruptions to world economies, like that afforded by Hurricane Katrina?

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the physical infrastructure in many parts of this country has been dangerously weakened by years of budget cuts.  How will American businesses distribute their goods in the future, if the trucking companies cannot count on our roads and bridges?

A study conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Cooperation reports that the U.S. is falling farther and farther behind other nations in education.  Where will the workers of the future come from, if Americans continue to be so poorly educated?  This past summer, Toyota chose a location for a new plant in Canada, rather than one in the United States, because the company can spend less on training for Canadian workers.

Study after study shows that many Americans are getting poorer.  And there is evidence that fewer Americans are moving from lower economic levels to higher ones.  Who will buy the products made by American companies when most Americans become too poor?

According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average annual cost of health insurance for a family of four now exceeds the annual income provided by the minimum wage.  Another reason Toyota chose to locate its new plant in Canada is that the company saves money hiring Canadian workers because health care in Canada is funded by the taxpayers, rather than by employers.  Why are not American businesses working to remove the millstone of ever more expensive health insurance from around their necks?

What is common to all these issues is the short-term thinking behind them.  As a nation, it seems, we have come to believe that we need only concern ourselves with the short term because, as a famous economist once said, in the long term we are all dead.  Unfortunately, it seems that grim reaper known as the long term is knocking at our door right now.

Not only are America’s business leaders closing their eyes to the difficulties their companies will face in the future, they are missing huge opportunities right here in the present.  What kind of money could be made developing technology to protect coastal property and structures, for example?  Does not continued repair of the infrastructure represent business for construction companies?  Will not the employment of Americans in these activities multiply throughout the economy?

One company is taking a bit of action.  IBM’s management has become concerned enough about whether it will be able to find qualified technical employees in the future that the company has agreed to provide funding for employees who want to leave IBM to become math or science teachers.

The question remains, why are our business leaders refusing to look beyond their noses?  Perhaps we can find the answer by following the money.  Captains of industry are the very people who have benefited the most from this administration’s tax cuts.  And their thanks to the Republican Party has been vast contributions to put and keep Republicans in power—who then pass more tax cuts for the very wealthy, and get hired to lobby their colleagues when they decide to leave the public sector.

There was a time when this kind of mutual back scratching was called a quid pro quo.  There was a time when it was thought to be wrong—unethical, at least, if not illegal.  But continuing this vicious cycle could destroy us all.

Here is a challenge to America’s business leaders:  Let’s put the American can-do attitude to work to solve these problems.  The rewards will be huge, for those with foresight.

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