Education and Economic Growth

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The relationship between education, jobs and economic growth is the focus of the Developing Human Capital Conference taking place November 17 and 18 in Phoenix. Conference speaker Dr. Michael Mandelbaum discusses his recently published book titled “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back”, and what it says about the ties between education and economic security.

Ted Simons: Globalization has changed every job and industry in our country. The same is true of technology. Those changes require a new way to approach the educational and skills training needs of American workers. So says Michael Mandelbaum, coauthor with Thomas Friedman of "That used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We can Come Back." Mandelbaum will be the keynote speaker at an event host the bite Arizona commission on post secondary education. Joining us now is Michael Mandelbaum, the Christian A. Herter professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University. Thanks for joining us.

Michael Mandelbaum: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: How did the U.S. fall behind in the world?

Michael Mandelbaum: The world is changing more rapidly perhaps than at any time in history, and in particular it's being changed by globalization and the information technology revolution, which together put enormous pressure on every American job, because almost any job can be done almost anywhere by somebody who's competent to do it, and there are more and more people around the world who are competent to do these jobs. We just haven't kept up. We haven't focused on the most important question that a country, a firm, or an individual has to ask him or herself, and that question is, what world am I living in, and what do I have to do to thrive in that world? Some places, some people such as the Arizona commission on post-secondary education, are asking this question. And increasingly Americans are waking up to the fact that we're going to have to work a lot harder to sustain the American dream and the American way of life, and the American role in the world.

Ted Simons: Work a lot harder at what?

Michael Mandelbaum: We're going to have to work a lot harder at everything. And in particular, we're going to have to get better educated. Everybody is going to have to raise his or her game. We're going to have to have more education, and we're going to have to have better education. In fact, Tom and I concluded after interviewing employers, that in the 21st century, if you don't have a secondary education, a high school education that does not require remediation, plus something else, doesn't have to be college, it could be community college, it could be advanced vocational training, could be military service, but if you don't have a good high school education plus, you're not going to be able to make a decent living. You're going to be road kill. And unfortunately in America, we have hundreds of thousands of kids every year who are leaving high school who if it into that dismal category. We've got a real problem.

Ted Simons: How do you get the kids who are fitting into that dismal category to understand this, get their parents to understand it? Because without a will, it's not going to change, is it?

Michael Mandelbaum: No, it's not. And that's one of the reasons we wrote the book. What we need consciousness racing, and my observation going around the country talking about this subject is that people are beginning to get the message. The first step is to understand the world we're living in, which is a much more competitive world than one we've ever known before. The second is to understand that we need more and better education, which means two things. We need higher standards, for example, American students at the primary and secondary level have one of the shortest school days and shortest school years of any country in the world, and that's going to have to change. That's not good enough anymore. We're going to have to do more to recruit, train, and retain good teachers. Turns out we don't really know all that much about teaching, but there's a lot of interesting research and experimentation going on much of it sponsored by the gates foundation, so we are getting better there. But Tom and I believe where education is concerned, the most important thing is the recognition that it's a national problem. It's our problem all of us. It's not just a problem for teachers. Just as they say in military affairs and in foreign policy that war is too important to be left to the generals, so education is too important to be left to the teachers. Not the teachers are not important, they're very important, but we cannot let them Humberto entire burden of education. All of us have to be focused on this. Communities, political leaders, the business community, parents, and students as well.

Ted Simons: Haven't we heard, though, for years that A, the U.S. is falling behind in some way, shape, or form, and B, somebody else is doing it better, it seemed like for decades we've been hearing about Japan. The Japanese kids go to school so many hours, they learn so many things, they're going to pass us. Have they passed us yet? I've been hearing this for a long time.

Michael Mandelbaum: Unfortunately it's not just the Japanese who have passed us. If you take the international standardized tests, American students on most subjects are somewhere in the middle of the pack and in some subjects we are near the bottom. Now, why does that matter? It's true that countries don't compete against one another economically when China does better, when Singapore does better, we do better too, though not as well as they do, but individuals do compete against one another for good jobs, in the rest of this century the people with the best skills will get the best jobs, and unless we raise our game in education, those people decreasingly will be American.

Ted Simons: Back to how we got here, the implication I think from your book is that the cold war blinded us to a lot of these things. Talk about that.

Michael Mandelbaum: Well, at least the cold war gave us a focus. The cold war was a real threat, and we knew we had to exert ourselves to meet that threat, and we did. And when the cold war ended, we celebrated. We kicked back, we threw a party for ourselves, we regarded it as a great victory, as indeed it was, but it was also something else. The cold war created a new economic world, an economic world that is more challenging than ever before. it doubled the number of people in the global work force and it opened up to people in China, in India, in eastern Europe, the possibility of living like Americans, working Latino Americans, earning like Americans, that's great for the -- ultimately it should be god for us, if we take advantage of it. but the way we have to take advantage of it is to raise our game as well. and that means more and better education. especially post-secondary education.

Ted Simons: Your book is title "That used to be Us, " I'm assuming when you look at China you're saying that used to be us?

Michael Mandelbaum: I think that's what people see when they look at China but there's a larger point here we talk a lot about the problems America has, but in ultimately we are optimistic. we believe that America can come back. we outline the reasons for our optimism in the book. one of the most important reasons is our history. we are a country with a history of meeting and mastering challenges, even greater than the ones we face today. Tom and I believe if we look at our past, if we recapture the spirit, the policies, the formula that used to be us, that we can be us again.

Ted Simons: How can you recapture anything when you got right now a political society that's pretty divided, a whole lot of this going on when the rest of the world is moving right on past? what are you doing politically?

Michael Mandelbaum: You put your finger on one of the great problems. to analyzing why our politics are stuck, why they're dysfunctional and we think it has mainly to do with the increasing partisan polarization. Republicans and democrats are so far apart from one another, they barely speak anymore, let alone cooperate and do the big hard things that we need to secure our future. so what do you do about that? we asked what is turning out to be a very controversial suggestion in our book. we propose an independent presidential candidate in 2012 who will run on a platform of what we call radical centrism who will propose specific solutions for the major challenges that we face and the two major parties. That candidate, if he or she followed that platform would be placed between the Republican and the democrats. Section candidate would not be elected, but if a candidate like that did well, such a candidate got, say, 20% of the vote, that would administer a shock to the two major parties that each of them would seek to capture the 20% for that independent candidate by adjusting their policies to incorporate part of the platform that the independent candidate proposed.

Ted Simons: But did we see that with john Anderson's candidacy, with Ross PEROT, did we see any major shift with a viable third party candidate?

Michael Mandelbaum: We did see it three times in the 20th century. We described the -- an independent candidate did well. John Anderson did not do well enough, but Ross PEROT did do well enough, and because of that, the Clinton administration concentrated on deficit reduction. Something that it would never have done according to the people we interviewed but for Ross PEROT's performance. What we are looking for is a shock to the political system. We don't want to tear up the constitution. That's not feasible. But our system is not working now and we think it needs a jolt. Kind of like jump starting a dead battery in a car. And if we can do that, we are optimistic because this is still a great country. It's still enormous energy, enormous creativity at the grass-roots. Our way of putting it, if you want to be apartment mystic about America, stand on your head, because when you look at what people are doing, in Arizona, and all over the country, there are enormously talented energetic people starting things, organizing things, we just need to remove the constraint of the political system impose and channel that marvelous energy.

Ted Simons: We've got less than a minute left -- is anyone listening?

Michael Mandelbaum: As Tom and I have gone around the country, we've gotten a very good response. I think people are listening, I've read some of the reports of the Arizona commission on post secondary education and as far as we're concerned, they're right there are people in this country in this state who understand what needs to be done. Doing it is a bit harder, but understanding what needs to be done is the first step, and I think we are taking that step.

Ted Simons: Very good. It's good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Michael Mandelbaum:Conference speaker

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