Can the United States regain its competitive place in the world market and get its economy growing again? Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute president George M. Low, who now heads President-elect Ronald Reagan's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) transition team, suggests in an interview that the United States has no other choice if it intends to survive.
On the way, he concedes, Americans may have to endure a lower standard of living and some companies may fail. Many industries, just as US automakers, will be forced to invest large sums in research and development and in new plants, tools, and equipment. Most needed at the national level, he says, is a stable regulatory and tax climate to assure that such tough long range decisions are reached
"I hope our elected leadership in Congress and the White House will be strong enough to force through the necessary decisions," he says. "It may be that we'll all have to gnash our teeth for awhile and accept some sacrifices while we wait."
Mr. Low, former deputy administrator of NASA and a key planner for the Apollo program, cites as an example of the kind of determination possible the post-Sputnik decision to land a man on the moon -- a decision backed by a set timetable and strong leadership at the top. The 1967 spacecraft fire that killed three astronauts would have provided an "easy excuse," he says, to scrap the mission. But that idea was "unthinkable" to everyone concerned.
"I think we've lost a little bit of that spunk," he says.
Such determination to pull together towards a common goal may not be nearly as easy in the economic area, Low says. But he considers the recent election results as a strong sign that Americans are "tired of being less than the best" and that they feel an "urgency" for their nation to become productive again.
Low expects that in time the US auto industry will increase its share of the world market and suggests that US television manufacturers already have set an example.
"You don't see the stores that full of [Japanese] Sony's anymore," he says. "Companies like General Electric and Zenith have regained a substantial share of the market because they're producing quality products."