Resolutions For the New Economic Year

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Brokers trade shares of Alcoa on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

Just like holidays, recessions are a time to reflect — and an to make the little changes that could make the future a better place than the past. Sure, we've all got New Year's resolutions of our own, but what good is exercising more going to do the economy? So herewith, 10 resolutions for the new economic year — made on behalf of the people who can actually carry them out. 1. SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt resolves to take the proper lesson from the Enron mess and commission his predecessor, the eternally vigilant Arthur Levitt, to go to work on the rules and strictures of corporate accounting until someone besides corporate accountants can understand them. Don't stop until the field is no longer the wool over investors' (and analysts') eyes that it is today.

2. State legislatures, meanwhile, resolve to learn the other proper lesson from Enron, and let energy deregulation continue apace. It's not perfect, and it's not easy, but until energy is sold on the open market at market prices from a variety of suppliers, nobody except Big Oil and Big Coal (and Big Nuke) is going to have a chance.

3. Speaking of which, EPA chief Christine Whitman resolves to start an environmental revolution by phasing in a new, gloriously Republican method of environmental regulation: Charging companies for the pollutants they emit. Cost-benefit-obsessed Bush regulatory chief John D. Graham can take care of the calculations, and together they push the dirtiest industries to clean up out of self-interest and put market forces to work for cleaner technologies. Not to mention bring the EPA — and the government — a whole new revenue stream.

4. The Big Five record labels resolve to keep insisting that little (copy-protected) plastic disks are the only acceptable way to own music, and continue to swim against the evolutionary tide with stingy, grudging alternatives to Internet file-swapping — until the listening public finally gives up, gives in and returns the music industry to its beginnings as one big singles-driven Internet jukebox. And then we'll all just start over.

5. Cable and satellite companies resolve to concentrate a little less on winning market share through mergers and acquisitions and a little more on competing for our subscripted eyeballs with vertically integrated broadband services like movies-on-demand and pay-per TV archives. A little price pressure might be nice too.

6. Major League Baseball resolves to let owners do their own contracting by making the rules of the game simple. Give each team a salary cap, with a twist: Big-market teams with fat local TV contracts (or anyone else with itchy purse strings) may spend, say, 25 percent more if they so choose. But no more spiraling salaries and free-agent bidding wars. Organized baseball is a cartel by definition, and a viable entertainment concern only in its entirety. Let all its teams at least play in the same ballpark.

7. Mexico and Canada resolve to adopt the U.S. dollar as their currency. Think about it.

8. Congress resolves to get a handle on beyond-the-budget spending before they choke off the 2002-2003 recovery with big surpluses and high long-term interest rates.

9. Congress also resolves to put its money where its mouth is in terms of freer trade. No more tariffs, no more market-molding, no more Jesse Helms coddling the textile farmers back home or Jim Jeffords coddling the dairy farmers. No more tears for Big Steel — when the world moves on, the world moves on, and to stay on top of the global economy as its wealthiest customer and preeminent value-adder, America needs to stay on the cutting edge. Want to help the economically displaced? Send them unemployment benefits, but don't slow the rest of us down so they can keep a job that should have left for Malaysia long ago.

10. And Dick Armey resolves to go out of the House with a bang and spend his last year opportunity in office putting together a credible 10-year proposal to convert America to a 20-percent flat income tax. If this is to be an America reborn, economically and spiritually, why not rebuild it around fair and simple taxation? Jesse Ventura can even run for president on it in 2004.