Tom Friedman has such a way with words. Guess thatâs 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 âthe great inflectionâ with âthe great recessionâ as fundamentally changing Americaâs economyâŠand future.
Whatâs this âgreat inflection?â
Itâs âthe mass diffusion of low-cost, high-powered innovation technologies plus cheap connectivity. They are transforming how business is done,â Friedman said.
Coupled with globalization, the great inflection âhas transformed how goods and services are bought and sold, made and designed,â Friedman wrote.
âThis merger makes old jobs obsolete faster and spins off new jobs faster, but all the good new jobs require higher skills.â
Friedman reports that through the 1970s America ensured its workforce kept pace with technological change âby steadily expanding public education.â But, when changes from globalization and IT began accelerating after the 1980s, we slacked off.
âOur 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 Friedman says, quoting Harvard University labor economist Lawrence Katz.
This is when the downside of âthe great inflectionâ began, he says.
âWhat did we do?â he asks, then, answers.
Rather than invest to reduce our education deficit, we built a false economy for unskilled workers. Through âmassive injection of subprime creditâ we created large numbers of âhome construction and retailing jobs.â This was fostered by a Wall Street that reoriented itself into an industry obsessed with creating and funding âunproductive financial instruments.â
Then, âthe great inflectionâ met âthe great recession.â
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 Americaâs rank in educational performance fell in global rankings, âwe convinced ourselves that our traditional global edge in entrepreneurship and innovation could compensate for our declines in educational attainment.â
âThey canât,â says Friedman.
âMany Americans understand something is very wrong,â he writes, and is of uncommon scale. As such, politics as usual wonât meet the challenge.
Friedman says America needs âjob-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
He sees neither presidential candidate candidly addressing the challenge or proposing solutions. âIf neither doesâŠthe country will lose by a mile.â
Rather than listening to political word smithing intended to overwhelm us during the last days of national campaigns, listening to thoughtful words like Friedmanâs might be of more benefit.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.