How Government Can Really Help Workers

Monday, August 28, 2000 - 8:00pm

By Thomas J. Donohue

August 2000

Perhaps at no other time in history have we had more cause to celebrate American workers and business than we do this Labor Day. Together, they have created the longest economic expansion is history—114 months of continued economic growth—with no end in sight.

The statistics are staggering—business and workers have added $3.5 trillion to the gross domestic product (GDP), created more than 23 million jobs, drove down unemployment to just 4.0%, more than tripled the value of the stock market to $14 trillion, and dramatically increased productivity to rates not seen in 30 years.

American businesses consistently strive to reward their employees for their hard work. The private sector provides 155 million workers and their families with health insurance, spends on average $14,655 per employee on benefits such as vacation time and retirement savings, offers more retirement plan investment options than ever before, invests millions in tuition reimbursement, and gives workers more flexible hours to help them better balance career and family.

Business is doing its part, but what can the government do for workers? Politicians are quick to take credit for their accomplishments, and slow to understand what will really benefit workers in the long run. The politician's first impulse is to shower American workers with a slew of expensive new government giveaways. In reality, the secret to raising living standards for all Americans is to empower workers and businesses to keep the economic juggernaut rolling.

How do we do that? Here are four things the government can do to help business and its workers create even more wealth and prosperity for every American.

Advance Free Trade. Today U.S. exports support over 12 million good paying American jobs. That number could increase dramatically if the U.S. Senate goes along with the House and passes permanent normal trade relations for China, which would crack open the world's largest markets to U.S. goods and services. Congress can also repeal failed unilateral sanctions against countries like Cuba, which only serve to prop up despotic regimes, provide a leg up to America's competitors, and hurt American companies and workers.

Slash Taxes and Regulations. Unshackling American business and workers from the yoke of burdensome taxes and costly, ineffective regulations would greatly advance economic growth. Congress can start by eliminating taxes that hit small businesses particularly hard, including the estate tax (or "death tax") and the alternative minimum tax. Congress should simplify the complex tax code, insist that all regulations are based on sound science and provide more benefit than cost, and require that enforcement agencies provide voluntary compliance assistance to employers to help them understand the complicated laws they must deal with everyday.

Pass Real Legal Reform. After twenty years of capitulation to a handful of powerful trial lawyers, Congress should finally pass significant legal reform. A wave of frivolous class action lawsuits and government-sponsored litigation against completely legal, but unpopular, industries are draining corporations of critical capital, crippling productivity, wiping out jobs, and ultimately raising prices on a wide range of products for the American consumer.

Promote Technology. The application of a host of new technologies in everyday businesses—combined with the launch of a new and rapidly growing high-tech sector—have driven economic growth, and will likely do so in the future. In this case, government can help by simply staying out of the way. Risky Internet tax schemes and excessive regulation are not the answer. Congress has taken a step in the right direction by making digital signatures legally binding, but they must go further by ensuring online privacy and implementing a fair encryption export policy.

Government must push free trade, facilitate the growth of technology, create sensible and cost effective regulations, bring fairness to our legal system, and implement a tax policy that encourages growth, not stifles it. American workers—as they always have—will do the rest, and we'll all be the better for it.

Thomas J. Donohue is President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.