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Clinton Takes Risk Making Joblessness into Global Issue

By James Risen
Los Angeles Times
DETROIT

For President Clinton, bringing the world to the Rust Belt to talk about jobs on Monday represented a risky gambit to transplant his liberal Democratic domestic agenda into the rarefied air of the international economic arena.

For the first time ever, Clinton sought to turn over an entire summit of Western industrialized nations to a debate on one specific economic problem that is normally the preserve of domestic politics - joblessness.

In effect, he sought to lecture America's European allies on the need to embrace change in their ossified social safety nets - and to accept something much closer to American-style labor policies.

"We are here because we have something to learn from each other and hopefully something to teach each other" about labor policies, Clinton told the foreign leaders in his most professorial tone Monday. "We can't just fall into dogmatism or ideology."

In the process, Clinton and his senior advisers have turned this week's meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations into a celebration of Clintonomics, touting the same theme of good jobs at good wages that powered his 1992 presidential campaign. And the session may also offer a model for the way the Clinton administration seeks to shape and focus the international economic debate among the global powers in the future.

The message of the day from the administration to Europe and Japan was clear - there should be a "convergence" among industrialized nations on their approach to labor policies.

That convergence, U.S. officials said, should come somewhere between the rigid, government worker-protection policies common in Europe and the free-wheeling American policies of the 1980s that led to rapid job growth but growing inequality.

Not so coincidently, Clinton's labor policies - calling for a sharp increase in federal investments in training and apprenticeship programs - fall right between those two extremes.

Yet the gamble for Clinton is that America's allies may resent his efforts to reassert American dominance over the direction of international economic affairs. They may see Washington's emphasis on coordinating labor policies among the major powers as a new form of meddling in their domestic politics.