This year’s State of the Union address was slightly different than the addresses we’ve heard in recent years. Sure, Barack Obama looked grayer, and Hilary Clinton somewhat resembled the bathtub woman from The Shining (If you don’t get the reference, here’s a distrubing, NSFW pic). Without discussing wars and potential enemies, President Obama spent a great deal of time discussing America’s place in the economically dynamic world.
Obama rightly pointed out that China and India have for years invested heavily in education and are both poised to capitalize on this. The new global economy, as Obama correctly stated, means that jobs here require more education due to a flight of unskilled labor jobs and the greater level of automation in the manufacturing sector.
In order to reestablish American dominance, the United States needs to “out advance, out innovate, and out build” China, India, and anyone else that the US is competing with for jobs in the world.
However, none of these ideas are policies, only a vague direction to head as a nation, a rhetorical device to call for a rededication in educational investment. More than 50% of jobs in the future United States will require a post-high school education, according to the President. This is true. The unskilled labor jobs will not return to the United States in our lifetime, if ever at all. While investing in education and infrastructure (including the Internet) are no-brainers, how exactly this investment happens and at what cost will as always be hotly debated issues.
Without using the exact language, Obama heralded the invention of the Internet as a Black Swan event. The next Black Swan innovation will probably come from the medical field or energy R&D, given that’s where the most effort is being spent. More investment in education and sciences will increase the chances that the next Black Swan event occurs in the United States, and not in China or India.
The truth is that the interdependence of the world’s economies means that there’s hardly an “American economy” or a “Chinese economy.” Rather, now more than ever, we live in a global economy. If the United States is to compete with others to create and maintain the industries and jobs the US wants to support, only investing in education can assure this takes place. Education is the answer not only for the United States, but also for every single other country. It’s a race without a finish line, but if the United States falls behind, the consequences for the US could be dire.