Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Save the U.S. from Dying

Peg Tyre, long-time investigative journalist for Newsweek, now doing a project with the New York Times and I were kicking around ideas on how to save America. She wondered if it would help if we sent an even higher proportion of our high school graduates to college. Here was my response:

Even the students we already admit to college can't compete with Korea, China, etc-- It's tough for such students to argue that they're worth 300% more money (plus benefits) than Asians. Digging ever deeper into the barrel of high school students is certainly not the answer.

There is no magic answer. This is, as most experts believe, China's century. But I believe that America can slow its descent:

1. The current cry is, "All students can learn to high standards." Who could argue with that?

Me. I'd much rather have all our students graduate from high school with skills in how to start and run a successful business, resolve conflicts wisely, have financial literacy, information literacy (how to use Google optimally, for example), and great parenting skills (so from Day One, their kids can get good parenting) even if they graduate without knowing quadratic equations, the halide series of chemical elements, and the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars.

2. We need less pluribus and more unum. In nearly every nation in the world, ethnocentrism has led to enmity. The term "assimilation" has acquired a bad name in this country. I think that's a grave error. We should be educating people to be world citizens, with our self-concept a function not of our national identity, race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, but the worthiness of our own actions.

3. Recognizing that money and consumerism really are roots of evil, and educating people that the life well-led usually means spending time less in the pursuit of money and more on doing good.

4. Changing how we select our leaders. All elections should be two weeks long and 100% publicly funded. That would encourage far wiser people to run for office (No four-year campaigns of pressing the flesh) and would avoid their being bought by special interests from the Right and the Left.

Besides, who says America needs to be #1? I'd rather concede economic hegemony to China but be the sort of country that would result from implementing the recommendations above.


Anonymous said...

Your first and fourth points are perfect suggestions, so I won't mess with them.

I like your third point best. Why do Americans need so much? What would happen if we began to get by with less?

I don't mean anything along the lines of communism or redistributing wealth. I mean Americans, rich and poor, simply buying and using less stuff that we don't need.

Most of the stuff that fills the average American's life are not the necessities. They're conveniences, many if not most of which we could do without if necessary.

I suppose that our consumer-driven economy would collapse if a significant portion of Americans spent less and saved more. But it might also be an opportunity for future generations to create an economy that is not dependent on consumer spending (if that's possible; I'm no student of economics).

As for your second point, while I do believe we need to be world citizens, we need to begin being, as individuals and as a country, as self-reliant as possible. Part of the reason for the US decline, I believe, is that this country is so dependent on other countries in many ways. And many of our citizens turn to the government for problems they might be able to solve themselves.

If China does indeed take America's place, I hope they're ready to go through what America has gone through. I hope they've learned from America's mistakes and successes. I hope Americans will still live well.

And for those that hate America for being in this position, do they honestly believe the world will be a better place if they replace one superpower with another?

C.A.V. said...

I recommend reading Fareed Zakaria's article from the current issue of Foreign Affairs. You may visit the article here:

It covers some of the strengths and weaknesses America benefits and suffers from. It also includes insightful commentary comparing the American educational system with foreign ones.

Anonymous said...


You are in good company.

"The 21st century belongs to China. Invest accordingly."

quote from Warren Buffett


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