Andy Grove's Wish List for Congress

The former Intel CEO sounds off on "abysmal" education, lawmakers who have gone "Hollywood," and a health-care system on the brink

For years, former Intel CEO Andrew Grove had the ear of politicians and chief executives worldwide. Dubbed by some the godfather of the personal computer, Grove played no small role in fomenting a revolution in how people live and play. Under his leadership, Intel (INTC) turned out ever more powerful chips that now are making their way into everything from PCs to cell phones and TVs.

Today, he's set a no less ambitious goal: to revolutionize the antiquated U.S. health-care system. For Grove, a survivor of prostate cancer who is now battling Parkinson's disease, it's an issue that hits close to home.

But it's not the only matter that Grove believes U.S. lawmakers must address in the Congress resulting from the Nov. 7 elections. Grove spoke to BusinessWeek Correspondent Cliff Edwards on Oct. 30, pulling no punches in his belief that the U.S. political system has lost its way—and must urgently address health care, immigration, and education if the country is to stay competitive globally. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

What's your wish list for the upcoming Congress?

I would like each candidate to run on the basis of their PQ…that is, their Pragmatism Quotient. Like employee bonus targets, laws should require when you advertise or run for election or reelection in Congress, you would be judged on what your PQ is vs. your class. Having a number like that would sure as hell focus people to some extent. This is an ancient belief of mine: You get what you measure. None of them measure contributions to the practical solution of a handful of problems.

How would you measure something like that?

We know how to measure it. You can measure the number of uninsured. Let's say it's a number like 46 million the year you go to Congress, and say you want to tackle it. At the end of the second year of Congress, it should be down to 40 (million), then down to 30 (million).

You sound dissatisfied with the entire system, not just whether Congress is led by Republicans or Democrats.

I have very little satisfaction that the people we've been electing are doing something useful. We have a bunch of people who have gone Hollywood.

How so?

Every time I see a congressman or congresswoman on camera, they always seem to be talking to an empty chamber, flailing their arms to nobody except a C-SPAN camera. Every time I see a committee hearing talking about nothing, I cringe. What on earth did Congress have to do with a big, showy investigation of the (Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)) situation? Are they going to pass any more laws? No. But they know they can be sure to get their face in front of constituents.

So what would you like to change?

I think, just talking about the business issues and the economic issues, we are going to be living with a global workforce competing with us for the rest of our lives, and beyond. If we don't reduce our weaknesses and increase our strengths by looking at laws that are sometimes 100 years old and asking, "Are these the proper laws for a highly interconnected world," we lose.

What laws need changing?

Intellectual property law, for one. Patent as well as trademark law. You have to ask, "Are these the laws—if we didn't have any laws—are these the ones we would or should have?" I don't think if you did that you'd get a yes answer today.

You've mentioned declining tech graduates and the need to reform education many times in the past. Anything there that needs changing today?

The state of vocational education in this country is abysmal. Vocational education, job training, and retraining doesn't exist. A well-organized federal program would lubricate the Schumpeterian engine.

Another point: Immigration is tearing us apart because it's an unresolved issue from a social standpoint. It is absolutely created by the same forces as globalization. We have to deal with it. Leaving it lectured upon and demonstrated upon, while doing nothing to make an orderly resolution of it, is a mistake. Instead, the brave Congress had hearings on HP instead of dealing with immigration.

Sounds like you've got some pretty strong feelings on the subject. Are there other areas where you'd like to see change?

Health care. As you know, it's an area of preoccupation of mine. In health care, simply put, we are heading to 100 million people uninsured, underinsured while working, retiring, or retired. We're not going to let them die, so we're going to use instruments like emergency rooms to deliver health care to them, which will (overwhelm and) destroy those instruments. [Grove advocates establishing a national free or low-cost clinic system to immediately address shortfalls in physician care and slow progress in creating a digital health system.]

You haven't mentioned the military situation in Iraq at all. Why not?

There's plenty of people talking about the military action. They don't need one more. I'm talking about things I've spent a lifetime on. All I would say is it's not that we don't play the game well, it's that we're trying to play the wrong game. We haven't defined what we should be striving for in this game, and if we don't define it, we won't get it. I'm giving you what I have some comfort level in. It won't happen anyway.

You can't honestly think that? There's got to be room for hope, right?

I certainly don't want to blame myself for not having tried, for not putting this problem orientation framework forward.

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