Common Sense On The Campaign Trail

The untelegenic gentleman who won the New Hampshire Democratic primary did so with a somber message for somber economic times. In the coming weeks, as the campaign progresses and, as is likely, the economy begins to show some signs of life, it will be interesting to see whether the "Call to Economic Arms" that former Senator Paul E. Tsongas has put forward travels well.

It deserves to. The long-term problems that have been eroding U.S. competitiveness--low savings, low investment, a focus on short-term results, a disappointing educational system, and overdependence on foreign energy supplies, to name just a few--will still be with us when the economy begins a cyclical rebound. Tsongas may or may not be Presidential material. But we think he suggests some worthwhile antidotes to these economic problems. And what Tsonganomics offers is far more comprehensive than George Bush's one-note call for a capital-gains tax cut as America's economic salvation.

Although Tsongas espouses a liberal social agenda, he embraces some positions that are probusiness--indeed, he prides himself on doing so. Taxes on capital gains are a case in point. Tsongas figures the tax rate should be cut, but only on long-term investments in Corporate America. As one element of a long-term growth strategy, Tsongas' position makes sense. Other elements we like: Put science and research at the top of the federal-funding agenda. Emphasize early childhood education programs. Offer technical training to noncollege-bound students. Raise the gasoline tax. Introduce new savings incentives. Change the antitrust laws to permit more collaboration and cooperative ventures between U.S. companies. Some ideas are more controversial: Promote nuclear energy, despite its risks, as a way to deal with the far greater threat of global warming. Pursue "economic loyalty," but avoid a "mindless Buy America policy."

Above all, though, Tsongas is making a plea for business, the public sector, and citizens to link arms and make the American economy strong again. Democrats must realize that policies of wealth creation help everyone. And Republicans must recognize that government does have a role to play in encouraging certain technologies. What Tsongas is proposing isn't a narrow industrial policy. Instead, it's an ambitious job-creation strategy for the 1990s.

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