Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Need for a Brain Power Revolution

A Washington Post column echos many of my thoughts in the last post. It lays out facts and data that tell a story far different than the one told by those who love to praise American exceptionalism even as the USA slides downward in many categories. Talk is cheap and talk that wants to move the nation backward in time is even worse. Will voters wake up to reality and reject politicians and groups that actually threaten America's future? Sadly, I am not holding my breath. Here are some column highlights:

This is a moment when policymakers should be thinking big, not small. History will little note nor long remember that the payroll tax holiday was extended for two months rather than 12. The complex and difficult questions we’re avoiding, however, may haunt us through the century.

It’s crazy to have spent so much brainpower and energy on a skirmish that was purely tactical, while blithely ignoring the enormous challenges we face. It would be difficult to squander all of our nation’s tremendous advantages. At present, however, we seem to be doing our best. The central issue is the prospect of decline.

Our systems seem to have become sclerotic. The United States still has the finest colleges and universities in the world, but it now ranks no higher than fifth among 36 industrialized countries in the percentage of working-age adults who have at least an associate degree, according to a 2011 report by the College Board. We have the most expensive medical care in the world, yet rank 50th in life expectancy, behind such nations as Jordan and Greece, according to the CIA Factbook. Our society now features less economic mobility than is found in Canada and much of Europe, according to the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Our manufacturing sector is just a shadow of what it once was, and that’s not China’s fault. . . . . Our future lies in knowledge and information. So let’s go there.

The solution that conservatives advocate — let free markets do it — isn’t enough. Yes, free markets are marvelously efficient at allocating capital and creating wealth. But they have to be overseen and helped along, as with the G.I. Bill. It’s important to remember that markets are supposed to serve the nation, not the other way around.

Since last year’s Republican landslide, instead of reaching boldly for the future we find ourselves mired in trench warfare. . . . Is the political system broken? Yes, but this can’t be an excuse. The system didn’t break itself. Our elected officials put in place the rules that create dysfunction — campaign finance regulations that allow money to corrupt the political process, redistricting procedures that ensconce our representatives in districts where they couldn’t lose if they tried. The rules can be changed.

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