America's Worry List
HOLLYWOOD's favorite ''roast'' comedian shouts gleefully, ''Is there anyone here I haven't insulted?'' If you peruse Michael Lind's column on Page 18 (''Six New Policies for America in the '90s'') or read his stimulating new book, you may feel that's his missing punch line.
Liberals, conservatives, UN backers, free traders, McGovern, Reagan, Clinton, affirmative actionists, immigration backers - all have their policies castigated by provocateur Lind.
We print his manifesto criticizing the liberal social engineering of the 1970s and the conservative supply-side growth of the 1980s precisely because it is provocative, and because it advocates policies responding to six major concerns of millions of average Americans.
The six - likely to loom large in the US presidential campaign - are:
* Colorblind racial policy (a.k.a. ending affirmative action).
* Immigration restriction.
* Law and order (more police).
* Economic nationalism (restricting free trade).
* Foreign policy realism (deserting international bodies like the UN and making new alliances of self interest).
* Political reform.
It's important, for America's future, to tackle these voter concerns.
Let's set aside, for a moment, the three purely domestic issues and examine first the interwoven trade, immigration, and foreign policy issues.
It's apparent that some new tightening of immigration restrictions is coming in the US, as it is in many European nations. (And maybe in Asia if India and China don't match economic growth to population growth.)
Current immigration limits are as much sieve as fence, when some 18 percent of the 22.6 million externally born American residents are here illegally, with a million-plus added yearly.
But when Mr. Lind's version of Fortress America Lite adds trade restraints and confrontational foreign alliances to his mix, that mix becomes explosive. Some 90 percent of the children born in the coming decade will arrive in the poorer nations of the world, as the modern industrial nations continue their ''graying.'' This presents several alternatives:
1. Subcontract out more manufacturing to developing nations. That's happening throughout Latin America and Asia today. But it does not pass muster with Lind, since it could threaten some American jobs. Some jobs, yes. But it creates other jobs, as developing lands import US machinery, technology, consumer goods, food, and entertainment.
2. Allow more immigration. Verboten in Lind's '90s. But Canada, Australia, and other nations have dealt with reality by seeking immigrants with needed skills (and sometimes capital), as well as unskilled workers for specific low-end jobs native-born citizens refuse.
3. Stimulate international trade to provide jobs in both the third world and the developed nations.
Point No. 3 is the real answer to both Lind's semi-Fortress America and Pat Buchanan's medieval Fortress America. Many billions of dollars worth of new income (and quality consumer goods to buy with it) have been added to the American economy in the past decade because of expanding world trade. Jobs are a more complex matter. Job creation by new entrepreneurial firms did run to the millions in the 1980s. Job losses and jobs with fewer fringe benefits are a feature of 1990s downsizing. The job picture is neither as rosy as that painted by supply-siders nor as gloomy as that penned by Lind and economist Paul Krugman.
Now to foreign policy. Frustrations with the UN, International Monetary Fund, and world trade organizations old and new are endemic. But, as Churchill might observe, the alternative of not having these international debating grounds and regulators is worse. Readers steeped in history should applaud Lind's call for policies based on national self-interest - and alliances to fit it. But any reading of the past two centuries makes clear that self-interest and use of international organizations are not mutually exclusive. The Lind doctrine would place the United States in the strange position of simultaneously confronting both China and Japan, with Vietnam as an ally. It's more sensible to deal hardheadedly but calmly with the next generation of Chinese leaders, as well as longtime allies in Europe and Pacific Asia.
In recent editorials, the Monitor has dealt at length with affirmative action, law and order, and political financial reform. Here, let us just say that we join Michael Lind in heading toward Martin Luther King's goal of a colorblind America. We note the recent decline of major crime in American cities where cops on the beat are again becoming part of many neighborhoods' fabric. And we favor prompt reform of the system that allows thinly disguised buying of votes by industries, labor unions, and assorted lobbying associations.
Despite our quarrel with parts of the Lind doctrine, we salute its author for seeking answers to what many in America are worrying about.
Many billions in new income (and quality consumer goods) are added to the US economy by expanding trade.