'Tis the season for end-of-year lists, so as we bring 2009 to a close, I offer my own, slightly tongue-in-cheek, list of all the things government could do in 2010 to bring our economy to its knees. You heard me right: this is a list of things government could adopt to prevent, not promote economic recovery. My one true wish for the holidays is that Congress not do - or in some cases, not repeat - any of these things.
So on the eve of 2010, here is my list of the "top ten" things our government could do in 2010 to reverse our nascent economic recovery. Of course, government shouldn't do any of these things - but its track record from 2009 causes me grave concern. [Note to Santa: if our government actually does any of the things on this list, please withhold presents from them in 2010.]
First, spend taxpayer money on feel-good programs, stimulus programs, rebates, cash for clunkers and anything else which has a short-term good feeling and a long-term hangover the next generation will pay for. This is a long-term investment in giving our kids a debt they cannot possibly repay. It will destroy their future and our nation - but hey - we feel good today.
Second, bail out the states so they don't have to make tough decisions about bloated governments. Give about one-third of stimulus money to states so they don't have to confront out-of-control spending and the high cost of defined benefit programs for their government employees. When this payment runs out in 2011, states will be worse off and still unable to meet the commitments they promised to their large workforces. Many states will be back in 2011 asking for an even bigger handout. And we can count these government jobs as "saved" by government scorekeepers! States will be more reliant on Uncle Sam (and this won't stop Congress from imposing new costs on states!).
Third, reward poorly run and inefficient American companies. Bailing out money-losing companies like GM, Chrysler and AIG is a great way to waste American taxpayer money and hurt better-run and more-efficient competitors. This rewards our friends the unions that brought down GM and Chrysler. The new union and government owners cannot make competitive decisions (a fact proven repeatedly in the last year by GM) but instead will be guided by political decisions. Their competitive future is dismal and we are guaranteed further American weakness as they return and insist on further bailouts and special treatment. This virtuous circle will allow politicians to claim they are protecting American jobs. Americans may still choose to buy cars from companies like Ford, VW, Toyota and BMW, which are not getting bailouts, but are making cars in the United States.
Fourth, bring down American crown-jewel companies that are the big job creators, innovators and the future of America. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Qualcomm are the envy of the world, and as the world comes after them you would expect the United States to stand up and protect them. Instead, as foreign governments challenge them with vague "monopolization" claims, the U.S. government appears to be mute. Instead, the U.S. government appears to be piling on - witness the Federal Trade Commission lawsuit against Intel.
Using some vague "unfair competition" complaint, the FTC is using new theories and an unprecedented "sue first and discover later" approach to challenge one of America's best companies. Worse, the government is insisting that Intel can only create products that are open to its competitors. It also seeks to ban volume discounts - a simple fact of a competitive world. Intel is a crown jewel of America, invests heavily in R&D on US soil, employs tens of thousands of Americans in good jobs and by any account has not hurt competition. This American attack on Intel is unprecedented and harmful to the future of innovation.
Fifth, raise taxes on job creators and make secret unionization possible. We must do everything possible to discourage successful U.S. companies from feeling comfortable investing in new jobs. That means we cannot allow a stable tax environment, a cautious approach to unionization efforts, and a resistance to further burdens on employers. Card check, health-care reform and several proposals on the table to raise taxes will push new burdens and costs on U.S. employers heavily, so that it is difficult to see why a company would choose to create new jobs in the United States.
Sixth, attack one of the most successful areas of American leadership - health care - by creating a lowest common denominator system. Health care is 16 percent of GDP, so it is a juicy target for mischief. And when doing so, make sure to protect America's one million lawyers so they can continue to be employed. They will also make sure doctors waste plenty of money testing patients unnecessarily so they don't get sued.
Seventh, make sure Americans spend heavily on a complex cap-and-trade system and do not invest in nuclear energy or use their own fuel in Alaska. Keep fuel prices low with low taxes so people feel no need to buy smaller, energy-efficient cars.
Eighth, continue to commit our armed forces to unending conflicts that drain our budget and resources without making America demonstrably safer.
Ninth, keep and put up barriers to trade. Pass more "Buy American" provisions so other countries can retaliate and put up barriers to American exports. Congress should also simply sit on the three free trade agreements that would remove high tariffs on American exports. Do the union bidding and hold up pending trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia as American companies pay hundreds of millions of dollars more in tariffs, hurting our exports and ability to compete. Meanwhile, these countries have focused away from the United States and are cutting deals with a gleeful Europe and Canada. The world is amazed at the unique American botoxic arrogance to bite off the nose of trade to appease the incessant priggishness of the myopic labor leaders who fund them.
Tenth, and finally, make it as difficult as possible for business to occur in the United States. Block foreign investors and businessmen from getting visas to come to the United States to view products or attend trade shows. Make sure that we have ethics rules and policies that block anyone in government from helping host international visitors who flock to trade shows like the International CES, our event in Las Vegas. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel hosts dinners for international guests at our competitive event in Germany. Our White House could, but doesn't, help our economy by welcoming the 25,000 business leaders from abroad that the International CES brings to our country each January.
Here's to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2010 - and to policymakers who know how to get us there.
Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.
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