How Jerry Brown envisions 'investing in the future'

He has been called "the voice of the future," a man whose ideas are "ahead of his time," a politician who thinks, not in terms of truncated periods marked by election years, but in terms of decades.

Some of his critics say California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. has his head in the clouds. Others claim that the future according to Jerry Brown has a personal vision of the future, he has

But if Mr. Brown has a personal vision of the future, he has also found that being a visionary is no guarantee of success in the political here and now.

With two unsuccessful presidential bids under his belt and a possible race for the US Senate looming on the 1982 horizon, Governor Brown still talks about the future -- about building for it and not stealing from it, in his words.

The governor is spending a lot of time crafting a platform rooted in the present -- a program of ideas and legislative initiatives designed to provide the vehicle for his vision of the future.

"The very essential issue is economic prosperity and the problems of not attaining it," Mr. Brown said in a recent interview with the Monitor. "It has to be recognized that the underlying problem is that our economic growth is reaching a plateau."

"The real question is, will [President Ronald] Reagan be able to deal with that issue?" he continued. "I think there is a serious question about whether he will."

"If he doesn't, people are going to look around for some other political ideas," he predicted. "And I am attempting to conceptualize those ideas.

"There are those people who say, well, the New Deal doesn't work, but they have no positive agenda. I have a positive agenda that involves technological innovation, resource investments, and innovative education and training."

The country today, Brown says, is in "an age of discontinuity," a period marked by the end of an economic cycle. It is a time, he says, of economic stagnation and unemployment. He compares it to the world confronted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932.

And just as President Roosevelt turned to business, government, and labor in forming his "New Deal" policies, so the three groups must be brought together again to "form a new governing coalition," Brown insists.

He speaks often of the need for innovation to meet the challenges of the future. And he refers repeatedly to his theme of "investing for the future," which he breaks down into investment in three areas: technology, human resources , and environmental resources.

They are ideas he has sounded in the past -- often to the scorn of critics who contend that Brown's attention span is so short that, while the governor is a man of bountiful ideas, he is also a politician of vague or little action.

He shrugs off such criticism as "a canard." But he also expresses obvious concern in making sure that the program he is trying to get through the state Legislature is expressed in terms that are clear and concrete to an interviewer.

During the course of his interview, the governor sent aides out of the room nearly a dozen times to retrieve a broad range of documents outlining his program in precise detail; several times he repeated the three prongs of his investment theme; and he asked several times whether he was making himself clear.

"The point I want to make is that there is a consistent set of themes here," he said, "and that I am proposing practical initiatives within the state of California which exemplify the conceptual framework that I assert is essential for the future prosperity of the United States."

In a highly detailed explanation of his "plan for the next 20 years," Governor Brown outlined each aspect of his threefold program, a pastiche of original and borrowed ideas:

* Investment in technology. Under a $7.6 million program proposed in his preliminary 1981-82 budget, Brown has outlined a private industry-government-university effort aimed at maintaining California's world leadership in what is referred to as a "cutting edge" technology -- the microelectronics industry.

Modeled after a program at the University of Minnesota, the proposed Microelectronic Innovation and Computer Research Operation (MICRO) would involve research projects at the University of California, funded equally by industry and government. They would train graduate students for careers in the private electronics sector.

California now enjoys a comfortable margin of leadership in the electronics field, which plays a rapidly growing role in the nation's output of high-technology equipment. The state also accounts for 34 percent of the worldwide production of semiconductors based on microelectronic technology.

Despite this leadership, industry officials are increasingly uneasy about their ability to maintain their pace over world competition. They fret in particular about Japan, where the government has already earmarked hefty sums of money for development of the electronics industry -- just as it once pumped up the Japanese steel and auto industries that now flood American and world markets with their products.

Like many economists and electronics industry spokesmen, Governor Brown warns that government and business need to counter the thrust from Japan and other countries such as West Germany. To dramatize his point, he pulls out a November 1980 Business Week magazine article and underlines a quotation attributed to William C. Norris, chairman of Control Data Corporation: "It's two minutes before midnight, and if it's not done Japan will pass us."

Besides the MICRO proposals, which has been described as "a turning point" by one California electronics executive, Brown has plans to form a commission on industrial innovation. The 15- member group -- to be made up of representatives from business, labor, and academia -- would serve as a policy advisory body charged with proposing economic initiatives relating to industrial innovation and high technology.

The governor is also asking the Legislature to approve $400,000 to establish an innovation research grant program. It would make grants of up to $50,000 to small companies, which often have difficulty obtaining research funds to invest in high- risk, but often productive, electronics projects.

Also, Brown has proposed the establishment of a nonprofit corporation for innovation development, to be financed initially by state and federal funds and eventually to become self-sustaining. The corporation, to be a public and private effort, would help small technology-based inventors develop new products to be built and marketed in California.

* Investment in human resources. Just as he has adapted the Japanese approach in proposing a program for technology development, Governor Brown is taking another cue from Japan in calling for greater planning cooperation between business and labor.

"Business must . . . recognize that together with labor we have to have planning for economic dislocation," Brown says. He predicts that the burgeoning microprocessing industry may cause a loss of jobs for 20 percent of the state's clerical and middle-management work force. "We need to train and place those workers in suitable jobs."

The cornerstone of his push for "investment in human capital" is the California Worksite Education and Training Act (CWETA), passed in September 1979 and developed by the governor and people in the electronics and health fields.

The aim of the program is to join government and business in training the unemployed for jobs in fields such as aerospace, electronics, and nursing, where skilled labor is in great demand.

In 1980, CWETA's first year of operation, 4,145 individuals were trained at a cost of $9.5 million. Under the program, trainees receive on-the-job experience , as well as classroom instruction held after normal working hours.

In return for the government funding assistance, employers must create upward-mobility opportunities for CWETA-trained workers.And in the case of workers who undergo a CWETA program to upgrade their skills, employers must agree to promote those who successfully complete the training.

"We're actually training people to go into electronics, nursing, and cable television," explains Brown, who first proposed CWETA in his 1979 state-of-the-state address.

"What I'm saying is, take someone without the skill and have government help pay for his training," he continues. "And then create a career ladder so this person who wasn't really contributing to society now can be equipped to do so."

* Investment in environmental resources. The third part of Mr. Brown's "invest for the future" package centers on a theme he has given high priority as governor -- protecting the environment.

In "investing for prosperity," a 20-year plan that outlines both two-year goals and projections for the year 2000, Brown proposes a sweeping environmental agenda that includes such projects as expansion of the state's wetlands, reforestation of millions of trees, building up California's salmon and steelhead populations, developing a chaparral-management program to help control forest fires, constructing a desalting plant for dangerously salt-laden agricultural lands, and promoting alternative energy sources.

Playing a key role in Brown's environmental program is the California Conservation Corps (CCC), a pet project of the governor's which was established in 1976 to protect the environment while giving employment opportunities to California youth.

Corps members, who sign up for a one-year term, earn minimum wages in a no-frills program that emphasizes "the American work ethic." By CCC estimates, for every $1 the state invests in the program, taxpayers get back $1.20 in corps services, which range from firefighting and flood control to building urban parks and reconstructing mountain trails.

Financially speaking, Brown's three-part program is modest in scope. Proposed funding during 1981-82 for new and existing programs runs about $109 million in a $24.5 billion budget.

But in a budget year marking a period that has been called "a fiscal crisis" -- and with legislators in both parties calling for no new state programs -- such proposals are not expected to pass without a fight, if they pass at all.

The battle is expected to be a test for Brown, who has spent much of the past year trying to win allies in a Legislature that in the past he either largely ignored or openly scorned.

Although eager and animated in presenting the details of his proposals, Brown is subdued in predicting what success, if any, he will have in persuading legislators to back his initiatives.

"Those things take a lot of work," is all he says.

Brown is equally cautious in discussing his own political future. A third term for governor is highly unlikely, he says, although he has not decided whether he will run for the US Senate in 1982 or make a 1984 bid for the presidency, following the private-citizen route taken by both Mr. Reagan and former President Carter. He does allow, however, that if he ran for the Senate, "it would be very unlikely that I would run for president right away."

As for the future of hiw own party, Governor Brown urges that "the priority for Democrats [be] to confront the information revolution and to integrate it to their traditional concerns of social equity."

"It is not enough to say let us help those who are less fortunate," he contends. "No society has operated on just that principle. We have to . . . build the economic strength of the country and do so in a context of social equity."

He is reluctant, however, to define his own agenda for California's future as "a Democratic idea."

"What it is," he says, "is a necessary idea . . . . I think it's a cornerstone for the country. I don't think it has a partisan label yet. I think partisan labels are deceptive. I think there's compassion, I think there's progress.I think there's strength [in his plan]. And those are the ingredients of an incentive program."

"It's not the old liberal, it's not the new conservative," he explains. "It's what I want to do."

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