Clinton Overtures to Business

February 23, 1993

President Clinton has cashed in rather quickly on the seating arrangements for his economic-policy address to Congress last week. Remember the tableau in the distinguished visitors gallery? There was First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, flanked on her right by John Sculley, chairman and CEO of Apple Computer, and on her left by Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

Two days later, Mr. Greenspan appeared before the Senate Banking Committee to describe the Clinton program as a "serious" and "credible" and "detailed" attempt to shrink the deficit. Though Mr. Greenspan, returning to his usual circumspection, refused to promise lower interest rates, his words resonated to the administration's advantage.

Two days after that spectacle, the president was off to the West Coast in a swing promoted by Mr. Sculley, leader of the Silicon Valley executives who endorsed Mr. Clinton at a crucial moment in mid-campaign. The Clinton program has a lot of businessmen worried, but not entrepreneurs in high-tech, knowledge-based fields.

Yesterday Mr. Clinton wound up his trip with a visit to the Boeing Corp. in Seattle, a giant exporter lately wounded in competition with the European-subsidized Airbus consortium. The president promised help from Washington.

What all this portends is a radical shift in relations between government and business that might eventually warrant description as "industrial policy" -- a hated phrase during the laissez-faire Reagan-Bush era. Those Republican presidents, at least rhetorically, proclaimed a hands-off policy in which market fforces would determine the success or failure of enterprises. But Clintonians, surveying the world with a jaundiced eye, find other governments subsidizing export industries and skewing their tax codes to the detriment of American industries. And so, the Clinton program is an amalgam of initiatives to beat competitors at their own game.

This is the stuff of Silicon Valley thinking. At the Little Rock economic conference in December, Mr. Sculley warned the nation had suddenly become resource-poor rather than resource-rich and would have to rely in the future not on things that come out of the ground but on "ideas and information that come out of our mind." He is a champion of administration efforts to redirect new technologies from military to civilian uses.

This facet of Clintonomics has its champions in Laura Tyson, the Berkeley-trained chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who is advocating massive sums for the training of workers for high-tech jobs.

While Republicans are counting on business revulsion against higher corporate and income taxes to put up roadblocks to the Clinton initiatives, they should take note of the president's ability to enlist the likes of Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Sculley. Add to that polls indicating widespread public acceptance of the president's approach, and you get a picture of a nation eager for innovation and change.

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