I AM NOT a cheerleader for Alexander Haig. But since almost three months had gone by and no one has risen to his defense in the matter of his shaky voice on the day of the Reagan assassination attempt, I will do so. It seems to me that he often has a shaky voice, and, because I had one for years, I have sympathy for the secretary. I finally conquered, or came reasoably close to conquering, the shaky voice. But I had another problem: shaky hands. My parent each had slight tremors. Their genes combined to produce in me a condition that often resembles an advanced case of palsy.
Once, as a young lawyer, I was arguing a legal point in the judge's chambers. It was my biggest case ever. I made my point masterfully. One could feel the humbled, despairing acquiescene of the opposing attorneys -- and the admiration of the judgment and of the other lawyers on my side for the cool, compelling logic of my argument. Unfortuately, a court attendant had just placed a cup of coffee on the table at my side. As I picked it up, the hush was shattered by the rattle of saucer, cup and spoon. By the time the cup had reached my lips, half the coffee had been spilled on the floor, where it joined the remains of the illusion of calm control that had existed a momement before.
I am a devoted reader of letters to the editor, and I am often rewarded for my efforts. Not long ago, for example, I saw one that suggested this punishment for drunk driving. 52 Saturdays working in the emergency ward of the nearest hospital. Saturday night is of course when the drunk driver does his worst damage. This punishment would keep him off the road during his most dangerous period and show him the bloody results that behavior of this kind can produce.
Ronald Reagan celebrated a recent spring day by issuing Executive Order 12303 establishing the Presidential Advisory Committee on Federalism. On the same day he appointed three members to another commission. It is called the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. What do you think the Advisory Commission on Federalism could do that the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations could not do? The answer, of course, is nothing -- except provide additional pretigious appointments for the president to make. So much, then, for Reagan's Crusade Against Big Government.
Dr. James Edwards, the distinguished dentist and secretary of energy, was testifying recently before the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Sidney Yates, who is fighting to prevserve the few good energy conservation regulations. Edwards contended that the regulations weren't needed, that the free market could do the job on conservation. To prove his point, Edwards said, "I just happened to buy a refrigertor the another day, Mr. Chairman, and right on the front of it was a big yellow label and it had the cost basis of so much per kilowatt hour, and how much it would cost to operate that particular for a year." The sticker was there, Yates replied, only because of one of the regulation Edwards was proposing to eliminate.
You may remember that a year or so ago I expressed concern about the unpleasant ingredients said to present in the alcoholic beverages that I consume from time to time (a practice to which the uncharitable attribute my shanky hands). Well, the federal government finally got its act together and was preparing to issue regulations requiring contents labeling. Then the Reagan administration arrived. Now there will be no labeling of contents.
Nothing could better illustrate the rigidity of the Reaganities. Labeling would not "burden" industry. The cost would be minimal. All that is asked of industry is honesty. But it's a regulation and that means it's bad. I think the country may be underestimating the price we will ultimately pay for this kind of foolishness.
Recently the presidents of Ford and General Motors complained about the high wages of their United Auto Workers employes. Both said they cannot compete with the Japanese auto industry while their labor costs are more than $19 an hour, compared with $11 for the Japanese. I agree that the UAW should accept a cut. But I agree with the UAW that there is an even greater scandal: The average American auto executive earns 700 percent more than his Japanese counterpart.
Last year, one of the worst in the history of the industry, Ford gave its president a raise of $85,000. What kind of example is that? Clearly the executives should give themselves a more drastic cut than they seek from the workers. The problem is that most people have become accustomed not only to not having their salaries cut, but to getting annual raises. Cost-of-living raises in particular have come to be a matter of right to people who feel locked into a battle against inflation.
But let's stop and think for a moment. Why should raises be a matter of right? Suppose, as is often the case with raises for government employes, the increased proportion of the budget that goes for raises leaves less money to fill potholes and keep libraries open. Or suppose the raise would cause the organization we work for to lose its competitive edge, as happened with the auto industry, or to go out of business. Or suppose the increases are inflationary and would hurt the economy as a whole. Maybe we should stop asking what can I get and start asking what can we all afford.
If the auto industry is to blame for its wages and salaries, it should also be said that part of the industry's problem springs from the unfair advantage Japan and Western Europe enjoy because of their failure to pay their share for our common defense. Just last week Japan's defense chief, Joji Omura, said we shouldn't expect another dine from his country. The money the Japanese haven't spent on defense has gone into modern plants that produce many civilian goods more efficiently than we do.
Are we helpless to do anything about that unfairness? Must we continue, to listen to their tiresome lectures about getting our economic house in order when they are one of the reasons for its disorder? No, says my friend Bill Schulz, the Arizona businessman who came within a whisker of defeating Barry Goldwater last year. He suggests that we establish a Trilateral Defense Ford, to which our allies would be invited to contribute their fair share. If they refused, we would simply assess what they owe in the form of tariff on the cars, television sets and other products they sell in the United States. Either they contribute for the common defense or they give up the trade advantages they have gained through their failure to pay their fair share.
A lonely idea. Schulz is full of them. When he is making a speech on the economy, he has a marvelous way of demonstrating to his audiences why there is a shortage of the right kind of investment. He asks them whether, if they had $10,000 to invest, they would buy real estate or buy stock in a new plant. They all answer real estate.
But, having demonstrated the problem. Schulz comes up with the wrong answer -- the same wrong answer supplied by David Stockman and George Gilder; lower taxes for the rich so that they will have less incentive to use tax shelters that do not encourage productive investment. Why not eliminate the bad tax shelters instead? If you get no tax break for your profits from investment in real estate. oriental rugs, old coins, anything that already exists, but you got a tax break for investing in new enterprise, new plants, new jobs -- wouldn't you tend to invest in the latter?