A Woefully Unproductive Debate

 | Jan 06, 2014 | 6:40 AM EST  | Comments
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What happens if you defy orthodoxy? What happens if you question the love affair with free trade? What happens if you suggest that immigration should be tempered until the U.S.'s own domestic surplus labor pool -- meaning people -- is more employed? What happens if you actually suggest that the U.S. is tacitly supporting the export of jobs to polluting nations like China even as we try to stifle domestic industry with climate controls? What if that last item is taking place even though we could reduce greenhouse gases dramatically by harnessing our own natural gas?

I can tell you: It's a prescription to be laughed at.

Let me go further. What happens if you support a boost in the minimum wage -- even though it hurts the start-up small business more than it does companies like Wal-Mart (WMT) -- but you question what it does to create a highly trained work force or high-skilled jobs?

How about this? You are viewed as some sort of off-the-wall, impractical, apolitical theorist.

That's how I felt when I was trying to parry Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, on Meet the Press Sunday. I am not saying there was a feeling of contempt from Gene, whom I have known for a long time and whom I view as a pro-growth progressive -- which happens to be the name of his book.

I am simply saying that trying to question the religion of free trade, coupled with actual pragmatism about global warming and immigration, seems to be impractical to this administration.

What exactly do I want the debate to be about?

First, I want a debate. I want to question authority here, for a start. I don't want to be viewed as some sort of kook for wondering if we can protect our own workers instead of issuing visas to foreign students -- and then having no problem with those students going right back to their countries with the skills we taught them. I don't want to be an apostate for wondering if it's good policy to crack down on our employers over global warming when they can simply take those jobs to Mexico or China, where you can pollute pretty much at will.

I don't want to hear the patronizing statement, "we favor all fuels," when I suggest that natural gas could be an amazing bridge fuel that would create more jobs and clean the skies -- vs. coal and oil, most certainly -- as well as promote domestic security. That last effect is pretty much Constitutional-preamble thinking.

Instead, in the end natural gas is viewed as an actual endorsement of a fossil fuel. This, alas, remains taboo, even though it is obviously impractical to power cars and trucks by solar or wind or water.

All of these non-ideological, commonsense ideas are way too easily dismissed by not just the president, but both parties. All of these people prefer, instead, to discuss the non-job-creating minimum-wage boosts and unemployment-benefits extensions. The painful thing for me, though, is that I endorsed those policies, and then wanted to advance to deeper, more constructive ways to perhaps put a duty on the goods of countries who pollute much more than we do. I want the U.S. to take advantage of trade deals that give us no hope of ever selling more into the counterparty countries, all of which have never allowed us to have a surplus balance of trade.

Yet, if a friend of their view is agreeing with them, they don't even listen when that person goes off their reservation with outlandish ideas to hire more Americans at good wages by promoting upward mobility and mobility to where the jobs are.

Many of these ideas came to me from the writings and teachings of Matt Horween, a Real Money writer who is provocative because of his commonsense non-ideological thinking, and because he is concerned with promoting cleaner skies and more job creation via domestic, natural-gas-inspired security. In light of these underlying concerns, it's downright sad that he, alas, is provocative at all.

We cannot have cloture on these ideas or leave them stillborn. They are the hope for a stronger, growing economy, which would lead to greater profit, more jobs and, yes, higher stock prices. All of these, last I looked, seemed like positives to me.

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