Preserving American dynamism

As the 2008 US presidential election ramps up, it seems that the biggest looming question — perhaps even bigger than Iraq — is the question of how to preserve America’s economic dynamism in the face of intense competition from the BRICs and others. Will the US economy and society be able to adapt successfully to the post-industrial world?

It seems that Barack Obama hasn’t quite accepted that the challenge facing the US will not be solved by the same tired policies, at least according to this piece by economist Thomas Sowell (via RealClearPolitics). Simply easing the pain won’t work; nor, for that matter, will propping up the old pillars of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party needs to become a post-industrial party, that not only pushes for relief to those harmed by globalization, but also realizes the importance of reconstructing the American economy from the ground up, to ensure that younger generations have the tools to compete.

Bill Gates — perhaps the poster boy for the post-industrial economy — has an op-ed in the Washington Post pointing to how the American education system needs to change. He writes:

Our schools can do better. Last year, I visited High Tech High in San Diego; it’s an amazing school where educators have augmented traditional teaching methods with a rigorous, project-centered curriculum. Students there know they’re expected to go on to college. This combination is working: 100 percent of High Tech High graduates are accepted into college, and 29 percent major in math or science. Contrast that with the national average of 17 percent.

To remain competitive in the global economy, we must build on the success of such schools and commit to an ambitious national agenda for education. Government and businesses can both play a role. Companies must advocate for strong education policies and work with schools to foster interest in science and mathematics and to provide an education that is relevant to the needs of business. Government must work with educators to reform schools and improve educational excellence.

Compare that with what Sowell notes about Obama’s views on changing the American education system:

He thinks higher teacher pay is the answer to the abysmal failures of our education system, which is already far more expensive than the education provided in countries whose students have for decades consistently outperformed ours on international tests.

This sounds like a great way of rewarding teachers, who, through their unions, have remained one of the biggest pillars of support for the Democratic Party, but not a particularly great way to reconstruct the American education system. Changing American education means changing how and what American students are taught — not simply pumping in more money for teachers or computers. It will actually require people to think about what’s best for America’s future, instead of doing what Washington does best: throwing money at problems.

For all of Obama’s talk about how he wants to do things differently, is there actually any substance to his rhetoric? And, if not him, is there anyone else in the field who gets it?

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