Riding the Education Hobby For All It’s Worth

Tom Friedman is back riding his education hobby horse for all it’s worth:

Those at the high end of the bottom half — high school grads in construction or manufacturing — have been clobbered by global competition and immigration, added Katz. “But those who have some interpersonal skills — the salesperson who can deal with customers face to face or the home contractor who can help you redesign your kitchen without going to an architect — have done well.”

Just being an average accountant, lawyer, contractor or assembly-line worker is not the ticket it used to be. As Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind,” puts it: In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.

The notion that education alone will solve whatever problems we have with competitiveness is beyond absurd. India has 48 million college graduates. China graduates 6 million of its students from college annually. Both the cost of education and salaries are dramatically lower in both countries than they are here. The idea that we’ll produce more college grads than a pair of countries each with three times our population is not only ridiculous, it’s living in the past.

Further, I disagree with Mr. Friedman’s premise. It isn’t education that’s giving accountants, lawyers, and physicians good incomes in the United States. It’s protection from overseas competition and government subsidies. Without the protection physicans’ incomes, particularly those of radiologists and pathologists and other “hands off” specialties, would be under the same sort of competitive pressures that U. S. factory workers’ have.

Education may be necessary for the jobs of the future but it’s not all that’s necessary. For job growth in the United States there’s got to be capital investment in the United States.

3 comments… add one
  • As I have argued in the past, you can’t improve education in a country that doesn’t value the intellect.

  • Brett Link

    That’s typical Friedman – he seems to basically pick up a hobbyhorse, speak to some easy-to-access authors, and publish an article with no real in-depth study of any kind. That is, when he’s not interviewing cab drivers and english-speaking officials of foreign countries who graduated from american universities.

  • I just think what Friedman is saying is that basic, rote services are not as valuable as something unique. It seems to be a basic supply-and-demand problem: there are more people in more countries who are graduating with more degrees, and so you need to do something to stand out. You have to have something extra to add (interpersonal skills, creativity, etc.) in order to be in high demand.

    There will still be plenty of jobs over the years, but Friedman makes an important point: you better do something to distinguish yourself. We have too many people who think that a college degree entitles them to a job. Well, if you only have a degree and lack other qualities, you are replaceable and can be substituted. You might get the job, or you might not, but you certainly are not in high demand.

    Investment in the US is critically important, but it won’t amount to anything if the American People do not produce. We are the ones who will have to provide a return on this investment.

    Time to go to work…

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