TCS Daily


How Do You Spur American Competitiveness?

By Rep. John Boehner - December 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Years ago, Jim Palmer was a mainstay of the Baltimore Orioles' pitching staff. Earl Weaver was his notoriously abrasive yet highly successful manager. One night, Weaver was expounding his theories of pitching with reporters -- how to pitch to which hitters, how to manage pitchers, and what qualities he looked for on the mound. Later, a reporter tracked down Palmer to see what he thought.

"The only thing Earl knows about big-league pitching," Palmer said, "is that he couldn't hit it."

I was reminded of this story when House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered a speech at the National Press Club recently about House Democrats' new innovation agenda. Innovation in the private sector is to congressional Democrats what Jim Palmer said pitching was to Earl Weaver.

Under the guise of "innovation" the Democrat leadership has recycled a laundry list of half-measures that, while sounding unobjectionable and perhaps even clever, are in fact the same old recipe for federal micromanagement of the economy -- more spending, higher taxes, and "targeted" relief to favored political constituencies. Unleashing the talents and creativity of the American people is much more straightforward and far more challenging than the Democrats' tired agenda would indicate.

Let's start with education. Our economy is increasingly dependent on the educational attainment of our workers. So what do endless studies, experts, parents, and students tell us is the key to educational performance?

Empower good teachers who will instruct and inspire their students, and get bad teachers out of the way. Demand that students, teachers and schools all be accountable. Engage parents as partners in their children's education. Put the welfare of students ahead of the institutions responsible for serving them.

That's it. Do these things, and you're on your way.

Democrats argue that the solution is more -- more teachers, more money, more of everything in a system that hasn't shown results. But simply adding teachers doesn't do the job. Spending more money doesn't do the job. Improving our educational system means removing bureaucratic obstacles to hiring talented young teachers; it means firing bad ones; it means setting standards for performance and then insisting that those standards be met. It means putting the interests of our kids first, and ruthlessly bulldozing over whatever else is in the way. And it means giving kids in substandard schools a real choice about where they learn.

Republicans have offered a vision for education innovation hinged on empowering parents and teachers to transform schools. We've put forward a plan to offer recognition pay for teachers who demonstrate results, and pressed for a first-of-its kind scholarship program to help disadvantaged children in the District of Columbia escape from underachieving schools. The popularity of this program makes clear that parents are hungry for real educational choices. Republicans have also proposed an innovative solution to help students and schools affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita through a reimbursement system that bypasses cumbersome bureaucracy. Predictably, Democrat leaders have teamed with the education establishment to oppose both of these ideas.

Here's another fact that doesn't square with the Democrats' vision of innovation: We don't have any idea what the industries of tomorrow will be.

Do you think politicians could have foreseen the promise of Google, eBay, Starbucks, or JetBlue? That iPods, Tivos, as well as XM and Sirius Radio would transform the entertainment industry? Of course not. This is what markets do, and do better than any government ever could.

So what are the hard things necessary to fuel entrepreneurial innovation?

Make more investment resources available to the private sector. Reduce the rate of growth of government so that entrepreneurs don't have to compete against Uncle Sam for startup capital. Cut taxes so that entrepreneurs will have a greater incentive to take risks and put more money into growing their businesses. Remove regulatory obstacles to competition. Above all, get government out of the way as much as possible while still ensuring protections for health and safety. Let markets work.

What's unfortunate about Ms. Pelosi's comments is how little they offer to the worker in an economy that is increasingly marked by change. Workers today change employers (even careers) with a frequency that would startle their parents. They need vehicles for health care, retirement security, and their continuing education needs.

But the Democratic leadership isn't offering support for health care innovations like association health plans, which would give small businesses the same advantages as large employers in buying health care insurance for their workers; or health savings accounts, which would use market pressures to drive quality advances and cost control in health care. There's no support for innovations like worker reemployment accounts, which give displaced workers additional help to learn new skills for a more promising career.

There's not even clear support for sound public policy like pension reform. This summer my Committee passed legislation to shore up defined benefit pension plans. Many of these plans are in danger now because they've been underfunded for years and many of the companies providing them are facing significant competitive pressures. Committee Democrats demonstrated their commitment to securing America's retirement system by voting ... "present." That's right: instead of voting "yes" or "no," they voted that they were, in fact, in the room.

America's entrepreneurs, innovators, and workers need help, but that's not what Ms. Pelosi's offering them. What she's really offering is dependence: dependence on bureaucracy for regulatory relief if you can convince them you deserve it; dependence on tax breaks if you fit in the appropriate pigeonhole; dependence on subsidies if you're part of an agency's agenda.

Since 1995, when Republicans took control of the House, we've rejected all that, embracing instead freedom and opportunity. The result has been improved living standards, millions upon millions in new private sector jobs, and a range of new products, services, and industries that enrich our lives professionally and personally.

It's been messy, but progress always is. The challenge is to help people through the messiness by providing vehicles for them to meet critical needs, such as health care and retirement security, without choking creativity. That's what Republicans have tried to accomplish, and I believe we're on the right track.

John Boehner (R-OH) is Chairman of the House Education & the Workforce Committee.

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4 Comments

Engineers are feeling gloomy
A new survey of more than 4,000 engineers reveals that most are pessimistic about the future of their professions, the state of the nations math and science education, and the US ability to retain leadership in technology and innovation ... A rash of recent reports from bodies such as the National Academies, the AeA (formerly American Electronics Association) and the Council on Competitiveness underline engineers concerns with their own facts, figures, and calls to action.
http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10433235/

re: Engineers are feeling gloomy
As a practicing mechanical engineer, I have to agree with that survey. It seems like schools these days are more interested in keeping their students feelings from being hurt, or making suyre they are acting with the proper amount of sensitivity. Math? Science? Even proper English has fallen to the forces of popular culture.

Leadership
Deming and Juran showed the Japanese how to compete, but US industry leaders did not care.
The path is clear, follow the path of Toyota and Honda and Ingersoll Rand.
Collaboration, not control is the answer for engineers.

Engineering education
It has been a while since I went through engineers school, but design was most important. Building things and making them work seemed to be menial.
I find it very sad today that so many 'engineers' don't want to be 'hands on' and quite frankly, should be kept away from hardware.
Toyota engineers must apprentice with more experienced engineers and 'serve time' on the line.
How many American engineers and managers would be willing to do that?

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