Why I Crossed Over

ROGER W. JOHNSON

September 03, 1992|By ROGER W. JOHNSON

The Bush administration claims to be a friend to America's employers, but its policies over the past four years have been a disaster for business. When it comes to the critical issue of economic growth, which this presidential election will be decided upon, the administration has taxed, spent and borrowed to a fair-thee-well, putting to shame the ghosts of Democratic administrations past.

As a result, there's a serious lack of credit in the capital markets; long-term interest rates remain too high because there's no confidence that the Bush administration will address the deficit issue, and with this huge debt, the world's lending institutions have no incentive for taking the risk of lending to businesses.

The administration still does not have a clue about the seriousness and complexity of these economic ills or their relationship to key social and infrastructure problems. Sadly, it has no real plan to solve them, only negative attacks on any new ideas as immoral, unethical or un-American.

On the defensive, the Bush campaign has unleashed a faulty critique of Bill Clinton's plan for economic growth that in the words of the Wall Street Journal is ''couched in harsh, misleading language that may not stand up to scrutiny.'' Indeed not. The Bush campaign has alleged that Mr. Clinton ''proposes the largest tax increase in American history.'' But the evidence suggests that the Republicans themselves have raised taxes more often than Mr. Clinton has. In fact, as recently reported in the Boston Globe, senior Bush officials have admitted that they are lying about their claim that Mr. Clinton raised taxes 128 times in Arkansas. When asked why they continue their attempts to mislead the public, they said ''because it works.''

As a businessman, I have studied the Clinton plan and concluded that it is realistic and well thought out, with tax reductions and increases and true investment targeted in the right places. The Bush campaign's ''tax-and-spend'' charges aimed at discrediting the Clinton plan are simply fallacious. They ignore the $104 billion in tax cuts over four years that the Clinton program contains. These tax reductions include $60 billion for middle-class relief, $12 billion for an earned-income tax credit for the poor and $25 billion for an investment tax credit for corporations.

My reading of the Clinton plan indicates that taxes would be raised only on the very highest 2 percent of income earners, those who earn more than $200,000 per year. I believe that many taxpayers in that category would view such an increase as a worthy investment if their hard-earned dollars were part of a realistic, integrated plan to rebuild our infrastructure and revitalize our economy.

I am one who would be paying more taxes under the Clinton plan and, of course, I would rather not. But our problems are deep and long in the making; we must begin finally to take corrective action, which includes creating some new revenue. I am convinced that increased taxes on higher-income individuals is the least harmful way to accomplish that much-needed piece of the plan.

The Clinton plan would promote private investment through tax incentives to business and direct investments in better transportation, job training and education. Economic growth and jobs would be stimulated through an investment fund that would help to replace lost military prime contracts with new businesses in products that are competitive in world markets.

Perhaps most important of all, the Clinton plan also specifies how these investments in the future can be made while gradually reducing the federal deficit to the $100 billion level by 1996 -- another fact that demonstrates the ill-fitting nature of the old ''tax-and-spend'' Democratic hair shirt this time around.

As a Republican who has voted for every GOP presidential candidate since Eisenhower in 1952, it has been an eye-opening experience to find that a Democratic governor from Arkansas has a far better understanding of what America needs than does an incumbent Republican administration. It was Ronald Reagan's challenge in the 1980 campaign to assure the American public that his election would not result in an overly aggressive approach to nuclear arms strategy. Today, it is Bill Clinton's challenge to overcome the Democrats' reputation of fiscal irresponsibility and convince voters that he will not tax and spend our way to further deterioration.

After many conversations and a great deal of reading and analysis, I am convinced that neither Mr. Clinton nor the people around him bear any resemblance to previous Democratic administrations that advocated redistribution of wealth and welfare economics. In Bill Clinton, I believe we finally have someone who has melded the best of sound economic thinking with a prudent program of social responsibility.

With all of our problems, the United States still represents the best force for good in the world; all we're missing is a strong visionary leader with a strategy and plan to move forward. Bill Clinton is that person.

Roger W. Johnson is chairman of the board of Western Digital in Irvine, Calif.

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