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NEWS ANALYSIS : At G-7, U.S. Seeks Recruits for Cult of Clintonomics

March 15, 1994|JAMES RISEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DETROIT — For President Clinton, bringing the world to the Rust Belt to talk about jobs Monday represented a risky gambit to transplant his liberal Democratic domestic agenda into the rarefied air of the international economic arena.

For the first time, Clinton sought to turn over an entire summit of Western industrialized nations to a debate on one specific economic problem that is normally the preserve of domestic politics--joblessness.

In effect, he sought to lecture America's European allies on the need to embrace change in their ossified social safety nets--and to accept something much closer to U.S.-style labor policies.

"We are here because we have something to learn from each other and hopefully something to teach each other" about labor policies, Clinton told the foreign leaders in his most professorial tone Monday. "We can't just fall into dogmatism or ideology."

In the process, Clinton and his senior advisers have turned this week's meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations into a celebration of Clintonomics, touting the same theme of good jobs at good wages that powered his 1992 presidential campaign. And the session may also offer a model for the way the Clinton Administration seeks to shape and focus the economic debate among the global powers in the future.

The message from the Administration to Europe and Japan was clear--there should be a "convergence" among industrialized nations on their approaches to labor policies.

That convergence, U.S. officials said, should come somewhere between the rigid, worker-protection policies common in Europe and the freewheeling U.S. policies of the 1980s that led to rapid job growth but growing inequality.

Not so coincidently, Clinton's labor policies--calling for a sharp increase in federal investments in training and apprenticeship programs--fall right between those extremes.

Yet the gamble for Clinton is that America's allies may resent his efforts to reassert U.S. dominance over the direction of international economic affairs. They may see Washington's emphasis on coordinating labor policies among the major powers as a new form of meddling in their domestic politics.

In fact, during the opening session of the conference, chief White House economist Laura D'Andrea Tyson gave a long analysis of the problems facing European nations as they try to find a way to catch up with America in the pace of job creation.

Germany's sophisticated apprenticeship and training system won praise from Tyson, chairwoman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, and other U.S. officials. But the focus was clearly on Clinton's proposals.

What's more, U.S. officials repeatedly stressed the need for European leaders to understand that they and their nations should not resist the onslaught of productivity gains from technological advances that eliminate jobs in the short run; productivity improvements, they asserted, ultimately create more jobs than they destroy.

But White House officials denied that they were trying to hold up Clinton policies as the model for the world. "I don't think it's a question of us lecturing them," insisted Robert Rubin, chairman of the President's National Economic Council. "It's a question of learning from each other."

Administration officials acknowledge that the summit is a purely American show, proposed by Clinton and Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich to highlight the growing interdependence between domestic and international economic issues--a message aimed as much at U.S. voters as it was at the foreign leaders. "This was a U.S. idea all the way," said Assistant Labor Secretary Doug Ross.

As if to emphasize the domestic angle, the conference was the first G-7 summit attended not only by the U.S. Treasury secretary but by the domestic-oriented secretaries of commerce and labor and the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers as well.

U.S. officials insisted Monday that while they were initially concerned that the Europeans and Japanese would think that the United States was trying to meddle in their domestic labor policies, the foreign leaders have expressed enthusiasm for U.S. efforts to open an international dialogue on the issues.

"We worried a lot beforehand about the potential for resentment, but we haven't seen any of that," said W. Bowman Cutter, deputy director of the National Economic Council.

Other Administration officials added that recession and high unemployment in Europe have forced leaders there to acknowledge the failings of costly European social welfare systems, which protect workers with rich unemployment benefits, thus giving them little incentive to go back to work and giving corporations even fewer incentives to hire costly new workers.

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