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Friday, January 14, 2011

Is Education the Key?

Hunter Richards recently asked me to comment on an article post entitled "Technology, Unemployment and Our Children's Future" on the blog Software Advice of which he is a contributor.  I actually find the site interesting for reasons completely unrelated with my econ-geekiness, and that is my Microsoft Dynamics CRM-geekiness, which they post often about. This particular post though enters a bit more into the philosophical / subjective realm of macroeconomics.

The main point of the blog article is that, technology is growing - and the demand for it will continue to grow.  IE, our national economy is now entirely led by changes in technology and new discovery, and unless we fix our educational system to match that demand for highly skilled technological knowledge, we will continue to flounder well below our potential.

I agree entirely.  Education systems are not a problem.  They are the problem.  Health care issues are spit-drops into an empty bucket - education is the water that is missing.   Other more eastern countries (China comes to mind) take education, particularly in math and science, more seriously.  They go to school many more days out of the year than we in the US do.  Many eastern children are, arguably, more strictly coached on its importance, than we are.

Economists debate the degree to which structural unemployment vs. cyclical unemployment is the real problem in our present economic climate.  I've posted before that I believe it to be a good degree of both - and research seems to be bearing that out.  But to the degree that it is more than just weak demand that is at fault, to the degree that we are undergoing a significant structural realignment away from low-skilled manufacturing and construction to high-tech manufacturing, life-science, etc., then we are going to need to re-design our educational system as well to meet these needs.

Some states, like my own perhaps, already sees this need.  Our Governor in the State of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, is making it his number one priority before he leaves office, saying in part at the recent State of the State address:
"Already, I have ordered our Board of Education to peel away unnecessary requirements that consume time and money without really contributing to learning. We are asking this Assembly to repeal other mandates that, whatever their good intentions, ought to be left to local control. I am a supporter of organ donation, and cancer awareness, and preventing mosquito-borne disease, but if a local superintendent or school board thinks time spent on these mandated courses interferes with the teaching of math, or English, or science, it should be their right to eliminate them from a crowded school day."
But individual states can only do so much.  In a nation polarized by ideology, focused on health care issues, green issues, retirement issues, education often gets left behind - along with the children of the US.

I don't necessarily agree with every causal link made in Mr. Richards article - correlation does not equal causation.  For example, I don't believe corporate profits are a 1:1 byproduct of technological growth / productivity growth.  For my money we have other worrying concerns about the formation of demand-led bubbles and the state of our financial system (along with our education system) which we need to also focus on to help address some of the disparities of income distribution in this country.   But, I do believe education is the single most important, most ignored issue facing the United States in this global economy, and one that, if President Obama continues to push off as a lower priority, I feel may not improve our chances against our emerging global competitors.

We don't have to be like China - we don't have to be a nation of cold-hearted 'tiger moms' whose children commit suicide because of all the drilling and lack of having a real life - but we do need to find a better balance - and we need to get our priorities straight.

7 comments:

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Adam Smith Economics Tuition Agency Singapore said...

Yes, education is always ONE of the keys.

No, education cannot be the only key.

Personally, I benefited from education, so because it gave me more job prospects, higher pay, more opportunities.

(that was an illusion.)

How I gained primarly was that I could something well. And that gave me confidence.

Confidence to do more things, try newer things, take bigger steps.

Now, I'm happy that, with a few like-minded persons, we have started a business venture.

And I'm still doing more things, trying newer things, taking bigger steps.

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