- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Economists are questioning Vice President Al Gore's claims that he can achieve 10 lofty goals, including a one-third increase in family income and a 10-million jump in the number of technology jobs, with his economic program.
Some of those goals may be met in the next decade, independent economists say. But if they are, it will be the result of the economy continuing to perform as well as it is today not because of any changes that Mr. Gore is proposing.
Mr. Gore "would have to invent the Internet again" if he hopes to get any credit for it, quipped David Wyss, chief economist with Standard & Poor's DRI in Boston. "A lot of the goals are very achievable they just don't have much to do with his economic plan."
The way to attain big increases in family income and high-tech jobs and a big drop in the poverty rate is to keep the economy "chugging along" at its current strong growth rate without inflation, Mr. Wyss said.
The key ingredient behind today's inflation-free growth is an unprecedented boom in productivity that enables Mr. Gore to project productivity growth of 2.8 percent a year for the next decade. Most economists attribute the productivity boom to the fast pace of technology improvements, the aging of the baby boomers and other economic factors that have nothing to do with the presidency.
"If you keep that kind of productivity going, you'll get a one-third increase in income," more big job gains and further substantial drops in poverty, Mr. Wyss said.
"Gore's plan is largely irrelevant," he said. "The best thing to do would be nothing, especially right now. Don't get too tied up trying to change things."
Mr. Gore outlined his 10 goals Wednesday with a 400-page book that fleshes out the details of his $1.7 trillion program of increased spending and tax breaks.
Mr. Gore says many of his goals would be achieved through his plan to pay off the $3.4 trillion public debt, which would happen eventually in any event because both parties have pledged to use the Social Security surpluses to pay off debt.
Mr. Wyss said the debt retirement plan would be helpful, particularly to promote low interest rates, homeownership and growth in today's full-employment economy.
But the vice president's agenda to step up government activism, particularly environmental regulation under the global-warming treaty, would prove counterproductive to his goals, he said.
L. Douglas Lee of Economics from Washington Inc. said the idea that the federal government can lay out a series of goals and then micromanage the economy to achieve them is "total baloney."
"We may very well achieve those things, but it won't be because the government did it. It will be because the government got out of the way," he said.
Mr. Gore's goal of adding 10 million technology jobs seems particularly "far-fetched," he said, because at best growth in the labor force in the next decade would permit the creation of only about 20 million jobs.
"Do you really believe that 50 percent of all the jobs added in our economy are going to be high-tech?" he asked.
In any case, Mr. Gore's modest proposals to achieve the job increase, such as more job-training programs and subsidies for research and development, would not do the trick, he said.
"Job-training programs don't create jobs. Jobs are created by the private sector, not by the government," he said. An active regulatory agenda like the one pushed by Mr. Gore is not conducive to job creation, he added.
Mr. Lee doubts that even a strong economic performance under any administration would be enough to break economic barriers such as the gender wage gap and low homeownership rates for poor and disadvantaged groups.
"There are a lot of people in urban areas who just can't afford to purchase a home. You'd have to have a very aggressive subsidy program" for such low-income people, he said.
And a difference in wages between women and men will remain as long as women take time out from the work force to bear children and raise them, Mr. Lee said.
Mr. Gore has said he would step up enforcement of equal pay laws to achieve his goal of reducing the gender gap by one-half.
But Mr. Lee said any attempt to micromanage millions of hiring decisions made each year could prove to be "very oppressive and very unpopular" if that's what the Democratic candidate has in mind.
What bothers economist Rudolph Penner the most is Mr. Gore's idea that even someone as powerful as the president can attain such goals.
"The government is not capable of engineering the economy in such precise detail that you can achieve certain numerical targets," and it can do a good deal of harm to the economy in trying, said the former Congressional Budget Office director, now with the Urban Institute.
"Gore's whole program is really just filled with social engineering," from tax proposals that are narrowly crafted to provide subsidies for education and child care, to some heavy-handed regulatory policies, he said. "It's government activism by a thousand pinpricks.
"People think you're being funny when you say, 'first, do no harm,' but it's really true," he said.
"A lot of governments really have done harm and actually have caused recessions," he said, but doesn't see a mistake of that magnitude in Mr. Gore's program.
The vice president cleverly crafted his goals so they would not be achieved until well after any Gore term in office, Mr. Penner said, but they still could come back to haunt him.
President Bush made "a terrible error" by promising a big increase in employment that he didn't achieve, Mr. Penner said. His challenger in 1992, Bill Clinton, used that greatly to his advantage to wrest away the presidency.

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