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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Coming Home to America

President Obama’s announcement last night that America’s combat troops in Iraq are coming home is good news indeed. After the tragic loss of 4,400 lives of our most courageous citizens and $1 trillion in spending that could have been used here at home, seven and one-half years of agony from a war that never should have been started is finally coming to an end.

Sadly, our troops are coming home to a country whose economy will not have jobs to offer them. With 27 million Americans unable to find full-time work, these loyal veterans will have to stand in long lines for jobs or shift to the unemployment rolls.

Let the metaphor of our veterans coming home be a message to the 300 million Americans, myself included, who have never been to Iraq. It is time for us to “come home to America.” With the Labor Day holiday approaching, we need to get our citizens back to work.

The strength of our great country is in its free-enterprise democracy that enables anyone with a good idea to start a company or anyone with a modicum of skills and a willingness to work hard to reach the top, even in the largest corporations.

These days, we are not creating jobs for people, nor does the start-up capital exist to enable the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the future to get funding to bring their ideas to fruition. Instead, we educate brilliant foreign students and force them to go back to India or China to start their companies, while encouraging our best and brightest Americans to get rich by trading commodities on Wall Street.

With the troops coming home, America needs to come home to its senses and its roots. The time is right to stop nation-building overseas and start nation-building here at home. Let’s stop financing foreign governments with imports and start financing our people with jobs and opportunities – not in government-funded jobs, but in a vibrant private sector that generates profits and personal income, and pays taxes to reduce our mounting national debt.

How can we do this? It won’t be by driving consumers to spend money they don’t have. People without jobs, or afraid of losing their jobs, aren’t in the market for new houses and new automobiles. They have to repay the credit card and mortgage debts that are already weighing them down.

Contrary to what the politicians tell us, there is no “quick fix” to this dilemma. Nor is the economy gradually improving, as we’ve heard from the economists for the past 18 months. By not investing here at home for the past decade – in research and development, in manufacturing, in infrastructure, in education, in new company startups, in small business – we have created long-term structural problems. We must face the reality that long-term problems require long-term solutions.

What are these solutions? How can we rebuild the competitiveness of the U.S. economy by investing in America?

While President Obama is meeting with his economic advisers looking for ideas, here is the comprehensive investment program that is needed to reignite private sector investment and create the millions of jobs that will get Americans off the unemployment rolls and back to work:

  • Provide private-sector investment accelerated tax credits at double the current rate to stimulate factory and building investments,;
  • Double tax credits for increases in research and development and make them permanent to accelerate creativity and innovation,;
  • Offer  hiring credits for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees to jumpstart small business hiring–where 70 percent of the jobs are created—;
  • Offer a capital gains tax holiday for start-up companies the first time they are sold to stimulate new company formation,;
  • Create a government “fund-of-funds” to funnel money into venture capital without picking winners or losers to provide more funding for new companies,;
  • Expand government infrastructure funding for the next three years to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and public buildings,;
  • Offer tax credits for expanding exports to reduce our growing balance of payments deficits,;
  • Announce a comprehensive program of energy development here at home that includes both renewable and non-renewable energy sources to reduce energy imports;
  • Change the Washington rhetoric to encourage corporate profits and provide certainty for investments by suspending additional regulations and ceasing the threats of additional taxes on corporations to get corporate leaders to start investing their $1.8 trillion in cash here at home.

As a nation, we cannot let our current political malaise stand in the way of making America competitive once again. The time to act is . . . now!