Tom Friedman has such a way with words. Guess thatâ€™s one reason he is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, highly successful author of books like The World Is Flat, and long-time columnist for the New York Times.
On Morning Joe last week he described the convergence of â€śthe great inflectionâ€ť with â€śthe great recessionâ€ť as fundamentally changing Americaâ€™s economyâ€¦and future.
Whatâ€™s this â€śgreat inflection?â€ť
Itâ€™s â€śthe mass diffusion of low-cost, high-powered innovation technologies plus cheap connectivity. They are transforming how business is done,â€ť Friedman said.
Coupled with globalization, the great inflection â€śhas transformed how goods and services are bought and sold, made and designed,â€ť Friedman wrote.
â€śThis merger makes old jobs obsolete faster and spins off new jobs faster, but all the good new jobs require higher skills.â€ť
Friedman reports that through the 1970s America ensured its workforce kept pace with technological change â€śby steadily expanding public education.â€ť But, when changes from globalization and IT began accelerating after the 1980s, we slacked off.
â€śOur high school graduation rates stopped improving and our growth in college graduates slowed substantially â€” far below what we need for rapid growth and shared prosperity,â€ť Friedman says, quoting Harvard University labor economist Lawrence Katz.
This is when the downside of â€śthe great inflectionâ€ť began, he says.
â€śWhat did we do?â€ť he asks, then, answers.
Rather than invest to reduce our education deficit, we built a false economy for unskilled workers. Through â€śmassive injection of subprime creditâ€ť we created large numbers of â€śhome construction and retailing jobs.â€ť This was fostered by a Wall Street that reoriented itself into an industry obsessed with creating and funding â€śunproductive financial instruments.â€ť
Then, â€śthe great inflectionâ€ť met â€śthe great recession.â€ť
The credit-driven, false economy shattered and the real economy stumbled.
Friedman sees great potential for continued stumbling.
Western societies have for years underinvested in education, he says. As Americaâ€™s rank in educational performance fell in global rankings, â€śwe convinced ourselves that our traditional global edge in entrepreneurship and innovation could compensate for our declines in educational attainment.â€ť
â€śThey canâ€™t,â€ť says Friedman.
â€śMany Americans understand something is very wrong,â€ť he writes, and is of uncommon scale. As such, politics as usual wonâ€™t meet the challenge.
Friedman says America needs â€śjob-creating infrastructure investments tied with a program to stimulate more start-ups tied with a credible deficit-reduction plan â€” that would be phased in as the economy recovers â€” tied with a plan to get more Americans postsecondary education.â€ť
He sees neither presidential candidate candidly addressing the challenge or proposing solutions. â€śIf neither doesâ€¦the country will lose by a mile.â€ť
Rather than listening to political word smithing intended to overwhelm us during the last days of national campaigns, listening to thoughtful words like Friedmanâ€™s might be of more benefit.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.