Stop fighting, and decide! And the perils of uncertainty | Business Roundtable


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Stop fighting, and decide! And the perils of uncertainty

Mar 28, 2012

Fred Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of FedEx Corporation, gave a forceful speech Tuesday at conference of the National Association of Business Economists, demanding that policymakers get to work on the critical issues facing America.

Politico carried excerpts from his prepared remarks, in which he highlighted major obstacles to economic growth and continued prosperity:  The country's heavy reliance on imported petroleum, overregulation, and shortcomings in tax policy, education, and training. He concluded with a call to action:

The failure to tackle the issues I’ve just discussed — energy security, reducing unnecessary regulation, and business taxes, trade and training — will mean that the average American will have an eroding standard of living in years to come. But we can reverse that trend if we come together to create more meaningful opportunities for Americans to work, build businesses, and create jobs.

“I think it’s time to follow the advice of one of the greatest Americans, General George C. Marshall, who said, ‘Don't fight the problem, decide it.’ Let’s all tell our leaders to get back to business — now, not seven months from now, after Election Day. Let’s take an absolutely positive attitude toward serving the American people by working together to renew America’s economy. Stop fighting, and decide.”

Smith's frustration and insistence on action is representative of many Business Roundtable-member CEOs. Indeed, the BRT's major policy document is called, "Taking Action for America: A CEO Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth." Action!

BRT President John Engler covered similar ground today in remarks on a panel discussion sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, "Can America Restore Its Competitive Edge?" Responding to a question from moderator David Wessel of The Wall Street Journal about business' attitudes, Engler described competitive realities. Members of Congress comes from states, he observed, so they understand how states compete for business and jobs.

They knock each other silly saying: Come to Indiana, go to Tennessee, be in Texas, and here is here’s all the things we can do. We’ll help in training your workforce. We’ll help with infrastructure. We’ll help with taxes. We’ll do all that stuff.

Today, unfortunately, that competition has ratcheted up. It’s now nation against nation, and we’re almost exclusively among the community of nations to win that competition. We’re still resting a lot on the glory days of the past, saying, “Well, of course you want to be here.” 

Well, not so fast. That does then get into what’s your legal climate, what’s your regulatory climate, what’s your tax policy, what’s the innovation strategy – a whole lot of things get into that mix today…

He cited the example of export controls, where Administrations of both parties have ceded export opportunities to U.S. allies. Research and manufacturing facilities soon follow.

And to the point: The political process is so broken that we aren’t making of these decisions today, and for CEOs, the thing that just drives them nuts is the uncertainty. Tell me what the rules are, I’ll see if I can play the game. But if I don’t know what the rules are, I’m not even sure what the game is.