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February 19, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 11

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (left) and US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue face off on globalization issues during their panel discussion. (All photos this page by Rose Lincoln)

Experts Talk Up Technology and Jobs

Panel discussions help enlighten, and enliven, conference proceedings

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor
America's technology outlook received an upbeat forecast, but storm clouds gathered on the jobs front during panel discussions exploring the major issues and themes of "Wealth and Work in the 21st Century."

With CNBC anchor Tyler Mathisen serving as moderator, Lucent Technologies Chairman and CEO Patricia Russo and Eagle River Investments LLC Chairman and CEO Craig McCaw discussed "Technological Innovations of Tomorrow." AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Thomas Donohue, president and CEO for the United States Chamber of Commerce, appeared on a second panel, "Globalization: What It Means for Trade and Jobs."

The two panels served as a bridge between the early portion of the conference, which began with a generally optimistic state-of-the-Internet address by Yahoo! Inc. co-founder and director Jerry Yang, and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's closing keynote speech [see page 1].

Donohue and Sweeney provided some "Point-Counterpoint"-type moments in their panel on globalization, as the two offered a surrogate management-vs-labor perspective on such issues as outsourcing, free trade and the so-called "jobless recovery."

The controversy over outsourcing was a particular flashpoint, as Sweeney criticized American corporations' transfer of jobs and investment to foreign countries, a trend he said was harmful to American workers.

Donohue countered that the number of jobs outsourced was relatively small, approximately 3 million, and was offset by foreign - as well as American - investment and location of companies in the US. He also noted that the retirement of baby boomers in the next decade and beyond would create a job shortage across several sectors.

"Everyone's into the emotion over outsourcing and job loss, but what we need to do is look at the facts before we make important decisions on our future in the global economy," said Donohue. "The fact is, we have to stay in the global economy, because if we don't this country stands to lose as much as 40 percent of its business."

Answering Mathisen's question on why the economic recovery is not producing more jobs, Sweeney responded, "Ask the Bush administration. We have no industrial policy, and there is no focus on job creation. The jobs won't come back without public policy that encourages job creation."

Donohue said the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector could be attributed to increased productivity - as a result of advancements in technology, especially robotics - and a "maturing of the economy." American consumer choices ultimately rest on financial considerations, he said, rather than long-term socioeconomic consequences.

"We have a great conflict in our country," Donohue said. "We want jobs, but we want the best deals, too. We're upset when a Wal-Mart comes to town, but we still end up shopping there. We're upset that not enough people are buying American cars, but we still end up buying Japanese or German cars."

Assoc. Prof. Frank Gollop (Economics), who attended the conference, said of the Sweeney-Donohue exchange: "Sweeney was certainly right to express concern over the American workforce, but Donohue had it right, too - as far as globalization is concerned, the genie is out of the bottle and we can't avoid competition in the world market."

CNBC anchor Tyler Mathisen leads Lucent Technologies Chairman and CEO Patricia Russo and Eagle River Investments LLC Chairman and CEO Craig McCaw in a discussion on technological innovations and the global market.

By contrast, the panel with Russo and McCaw was a more sedate affair, as the two discussed the evolution of the telecommunications industry and America's ability to stay competitive in the global market.

McCaw said a major reason for the US's failure to keep pace with other countries in proliferation of broadband and other technology is a confusing and sometimes contradictory regulation process involving the Federal Communications Commission, the courts and state and local authorities.

"It's hard for people to make multi-year investment decisions when there are so many venues to be concerned with," he said. "If someone doesn't like the policy decision in one venue, they go on to the next, and it drags out the process. This can be a real problem for smaller companies who just don't have the resources to deal with the process. But more important, this kind of overregulation takes out the innovators, the 'crackpots' who come up with radical, new ideas."

Russo agreed, saying the US should capitalize on its strengths and resources, which put it in position to dominate global technology. "We are not lagging but not leading," she said. "Other countries make a conscious decision to invest in broadband for educational and medical purposes. It's critical for us to take a leadership role, and for that, regulatory clarity is essential."

McCaw raised a chuckle in the audience during a discussion of Internet Protocol technology and other innovations when he said "'Star Trek' got it wrong" in depicting teleportation of human beings as a desirable goal. High-definition and high-quality video conferencing will make it possible for business to be conducted without travel, he said, and negate the need for "'Beam me up, Scotty.'"

Gollop noted afterwards, "There was an interesting tension between the two panels, and McCaw's remark about video conferencing played it up. Technology is an exciting thing, especially when it saves us work, but it also means that toll collectors and bank tellers aren't needed as before, and they have to find work somewhere else. The nation's airlines are in bad enough shape, so if video conferencing becomes more popular, what does that do to the air industry and its workers?"

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