Economy Talk 4: Do the Right Thing

“Do the right thing in the right way all the time”  Tor Dahl says he found this quote on the tallest statue of Buddha in China.  It has been a guide for him since and he says he recognized it as the sentiment that has shaped his life.  In my conversation with Tor Dahl he stresses that if we are tired of listening to politicians argue about taxes in spending, we should demand they talk about a topic they never consider and that’s productivity. He maintains that if we experienced the productivity growth of China, or Indonesia, or even Norway we would not be bogged down in these other battles. If we understood productivity we would be able to rise out of our stagnant growth patterns and once again have a vibrant economy that produced jobs.  He maintains it can be done without tax cuts and requires that government and business work together.

(This program aired April 27th but you can hear it archived here.)

Tor Dahl is an economist, consultant, and associate professor in public health at the University of Minnesota. A Fulbright Scholar in Economics, Tor has published works on health care, economics, management, productivity, and behavioral change. He was educated at the Norwegian University School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, Norway, and at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, USA.

He has served as a consultant to a number of corporations, U.S. governmental departments, foreign governments, and universities. Tor coordinated and edited the Proceedings from the White House Conference on the Vinland National Center, which is a non-profit rehabilitation center for people with disabilities, and chaired international conferences on lifestyle and health.

As promised here is the letter to the editor that mentions the Tor Dahl interview:

Middle class has done its part in budget fight

We hear more than enough about “living within our means” lately.  This phrase makes sense for individual households, but we can get in trouble when we apply it to the general economy. The United States is the wealthiest nation on earth and yet we are told consistently that we can’t afford to educate our children, provide health care to our elderly, and provide security to the retired and disabled. We have plenty of money it seems to invade other countries and give care, comfort and great advantage to those who are most well off in our country.

We are told by these same ‘limited government’ advocates that we must learn to prioritize, but their priorities are always protect the very well off on the backs of those who either can’t afford it or don’t have the same political clout to protect their interests

The other day I recorded a radio program with Minnesota economist Tor Dahl who asked me, “If you’re tired of hearing politicians argue about taxes and spending there is one solution you never hear anything about.” I was anxious to know what he meant. He explained,  that “if the United States or Minnesota for that matter had the productivity growth of China, Indonesia, Singapore or even Norway we would hear nothing of this arguing over taxes or spending.

“Productivity doesn’t come from tax cuts” he explains, “because the only way to benefit from a tax cut is if you have a guarantee that productivity will increase. Most people think that productivity and efficiency has to do with having fewer employees but this is totally wrong; that only increases the profits of CEOs and stock holders it has nothing to do with productivity.

“The US has been experiencing 2% growth for the last 20 years this is because we have pursued a path of quality improvement which causes the economy to freeze because your goal is to reduce variation and variation through innovation is what will increase productivity.

“The lagging economy rests with CEOs who lack the courage and imagination to grow our economy. They may create jobs in China or elsewhere, profiting at the expense of everyone else. Giving them tax breaks only increases this pattern leaving the rest of us without jobs. We should be looking for ways we can grow our economy that will improve our lives not destroy our livelihood.

A “living within our means” government commits us to a downward spiraling/shrinking economy leaving our children in worse shape. We should work together public and private sectors to create a growing economy. Let’s work to invest in the growth we need for the future.

That may mean at the present we must raise taxes on those doing really well – unless they have a plan to use the money they already have stored away to grow the economy and create jobs. Gov. Dayton said his proposal would shield 95 percent of state taxpayers from tax increases, while making the top earners pay a proportionate share of income in state and local taxes. The plan would restore recent levels of state aid to cities and counties, which Dayton said would help stave off local property tax increases. We the middle and working classes have borne the brunt of this financial sector disaster and demand those who benefited step up to turn things around. It’s the only way things will get better.





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