I’m not going to take sides in Tuesday’s Clinton vs. Obama political shoot-out in Ohio, Texas Rhode Island and Vermont, much less the general election where one of them will face off against John McCain. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take up the subject of politics now and then.
In Ohio, the raging debate is about NAFTA: the loss of jobs it caused – I think no one denies this – and what, if anything, to do about that.
In an interview with McCain’s chief economic advisor, Douglas Holts-Eakin, I got the impression that McCain’s approach is basically “lift all boats.” In other words, he favors policies like reducing taxes, reforming health care and providing better educational programs to train a new generation of factory workers.
I haven’t spoken to Obama’s or Clinton’s people yet (I’ll keep trying) but you can gather from Obama’s stump speech that he takes a strong anti-outsourcing posture, while Clinton frequently talks about domestic job opportunities associated with the burgeoning green manufacturing industry.
Frankly, it’s hard to find a lot of differentiation between the two democrats. But the big point here is that while all of the candidates are talking about creating jobs, none of them are focusing on the primary engine of new job creation: small business.
Small businesses create somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of all the new jobs in America! And since that’s the case, it seems screamingly obvious to me that helping small business – not all business – makes the most sense.
Before going down this path any farther, we should probably remember a wonderful line from Ronald Reagan’s early speeches. “The most frightening ten words in the English language are, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” It’s true that big government programs, by their very nature, are always going to have problems. It’s hard to write laws that take into account the enormous variety of individual situations they’re supposed to address, and it’s hard to enforce them without a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork. But surely, there are government policies that can specifically target small businesses.
Those of us who champion the Made in U.S.A. label need to hold the candidates’ feet to the fire on this issue. We need to know they understand the needs of General Electric are different from the needs of R&R Engineering, a 60-employee manufacturer of bent bolts I wrote about that is a model of competitive success.
There is one wonderful government program that is a model of effectiveness, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) There are MEP centers all over the country, and they have an amazing track record for helping manufacturers improve operations, competitiveness and profitability and a remarkably low cost. I’ll write more about the MEP program in my next blog.