TV REVIEW : 'Pillars of Our Prosperity' Takes Look at the Troubled Economy


"Something's Gotta Give." That should be the subtitle of the second segment of CNN's "Democracy in America" series, "The Nation's Agenda: The Pillars of Our Prosperity" (at 7 p.m. Sunday).

This hourlong compression of the very hard--and very hard-to-digest--realities of U.S. economic failure in the global marketplace may be a regurgitation of innumerable past TV reports on the issue (most notably economist Robert Reich's "Made in America?" for PBS), but it's a fine primer in case you've missed the rest. And reporter-host Frank Sesno, always one of CNN's classiest voices, makes the bad news at least slightly bearable.

Curiously, while the bad news is brought to us by a host of economic, political and business observers, they don't include those who have been most out front on the issues of debt-reduction and American economic revival: Reich himself, and the team of former Sen. Paul Tsongas and Rep. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.). Instead, we hear former Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson bemoan how presidents from Nixon to Reagan ignored the warnings that Japan and Germany were beating the United States at its own game, or former Education Secretary William Brock decry poor U.S. attempts to train students for skilled work.

Yet despite Reich's absence, this key adviser to Bill Clinton's economic plan casts a giant shadow over this report. Starting with the rising national debt, "Pillars" explains how the combination of tax cuts and defense build-up during the Reagan Administration created a short-term boom in profits, but a long-term burden of unpaid debt blocking the best-laid plans to boost the economy. Meanwhile, U.S. companies such as Xerox ignored the challenge from Japan, and may or may not be recovering in time to save thousands of jobs.

The two central solutions posed here are very much of the Reich/Clinton school and likely to labeled by some demagogues as "un-American": the kind of extensive government-business partnership that has succeeded in Europe and Japan, and radical educational reform to make schools oriented as job training institutions and the publicly financed pre-school program Head Start available to all eligible children.

Equally startling to others will be the news that Americans, like the ones Sesno talks to in Springfield, Mo., are happy to have their taxes raised and entitlements cut if it produces results--like preventing the debt from rising to more than $7 trillion by 2000.

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