THE United States governors, meeting this past week in Traverse City, Mich., are once again displaying their pragmatism - and activism. If the US is to compete in international markets, the governors correctly point out, there is going to have to be far greater cooperation between the federal and state governments, and between industry and labor. The governors deserve a round of applause for having done their homework. If they are wary of the status quo on the competitiveness and trade issue, they have good reason. Looking at Washington, they see Congress about to enact a sweeping protectionist bill. Protectionism is not popular at the gubernatorial level, since governors want to boost jobs - and this, in part, depends on exports. At the foot of Pennsylvania Avenue, the governors see a White House confused over its trade policy. Across the country, many governors see hundreds of thousands of Americans unable to acquire basic educational skills, such as reading or writing, and thousands more caught in a web of poverty and apparent hopelessness.
Chrysler president Lee Iacocca, who addressed the governors, noted that foreign students flock to US graduate schools but that US secondary schools continue to graduate students ``who can't read, can't write, can't count, and you can bet they can't compete.''
Enter the governors. What's needed, they are saying, is more cooperation in American society, greater reliance on innovative local programs - irrespective of ideological considerations - and a dash of old-fashioned can-do activism.
In part, the governors are in a cooperative mood because the American economy is now in its fifth year of expansion. Most state governments today, with the exception of the financially strapped energy states in the South, are doing well. Tax receipts are up; surpluses are being recorded. Only a few years back, in the midst of the 1981-82 recession, the governors were struggling to balance their economic ledgers and provide the stepped-up levels of social services that are required when the economy dips and people lose their jobs. The emphasis at that time was more on financial help from Washington than on joint effort.
Still, the governor's newfound zeal for cooperation and pragmatism is not to be dismissed. Governors, for example, are proposing that states work together to push exports, to find solutions when a factory, or series of factories, closes. They are exploring new ways of helping small and medium-size businesses to enter global trade. Most encouraging, they are seeking educational opportunities - job-training programs and literacy programs - for their citizens.
Retooling factories, educating the citizenry: These goals, say governors, are essential if workers, to quote one of their own reports, are to become ``internationally aware, computer literate, adept in languages and mathematics, and, above all, versatile.''
It couldn't be said any better!