U.S. business has a hard time competing with foreign firms, at least in part because too many American companies subscribe to the microwave cooking theory of economics, namely quick and easy.

Investment in research and long-term planning is often ignored in favor of immediate profits and the bottom line on the next quarterly report. But that can be a recipe for eventual disaster.Japanese companies, for example, already are investing heavily in research and long-term planning for the next generation of technology, even though that effort is not producing any profit - and may not do so for years.

Yet when the time comes, that investment has the potential for gaining control of a new market, while others who did not make the same long-term investment are are left scrambling to catch up.

This need for a long-term business view is the main goal of U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, rating even ahead of the federal deficit, Third World debt, or the savings and loan crisis.

Brady does not discount the need to address these problems or the threat they pose to the nation's economic well-being, But Brady warns that this nation's preoccupation with short-term investments and profits is undermining the long-term stability of the U.S. economy.

More attention must be focused on investment and development, he says, if the United States is to remain strong economically.

Unfortunately, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this week, "Diagnosing national nearsightedness is much easier than curing it."

To his credit, Brady has sounded the warning. Now it is time for U.S. investors and industrialists to pay heed to that warning.

While short-term profits may be good for the cash-flow and look good on financial reports, they cannot substitute for long-term planning and the financial decisions needed to prepare for challenges of the future.