The day after his State of the Union address, President Obama took his call for a new era of American competitiveness to factories in Wisconsin. In announcing the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness last week, Obama said:
... my number one priority is to ensure we are doing everything we can to get the American people back to work. As we enter a new phase in our recovery, I have asked the new Council to focus its work on finding new ways to encourage the private sector to hire and invest in American competitiveness.
There are plenty of people on all sides critical of Obama's efforts-this DailyFinance.com post is particularly critical of Obama's appointment of General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to lead the council-though just as many apparently feel the United States is losing its competitive edge. Back in September, our Rob Enderle wrote that tech, like trains and consumer electronics, could be departing the United States for more favorable shores.
For more than a century, we didn't have to worry much about our greatness as a people. But times have changed. We may be the nation that astonished the world by building a transcontinental railroad. But today, as the president pointed out last month in a visit to North Carolina, we find that Shanghai in China has built more high-speed rail in a year than we have built in the past 30 years.
For most of the 20th century, we were No. 1 in the world in education; today, we are ninth in the proportion of young people with college degrees, 18th in high school graduation rates among industrialized nations and 27th in the proportion of science and engineering degrees. China now graduates more English-trained engineers than the U.S. and has become the world's No. 1 exporter in high technology.
Of Obama's address Tuesday night, Foreign Policy writer Clyde Prestowitz argues, "Who can be against innovation and education?" But despite our innovation, our country has lost its industrial and technological leadership, he says, and despite our well-educated work force, jobs still are being sent offshore. He points to a Bloomberg article in which former Intel CEO and Chairman Andy Grove maintains that innovation alone will not save us. It's that problem with executing on those bright ideas, as our Ann All wrote recently.
Grove wrote about why we cannot rely solely on startups to create jobs:
Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.
The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that's the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs.
He later said:
... our pursuit of our individual businesses, which often involves transferring manufacturing and a great deal of engineering out of the country, has hindered our ability to bring innovations to scale at home. Without scaling, we don't just lose jobs-we lose our hold on new technologies. Losing the ability to scale will ultimately damage our capacity to innovate.
At The Washington Post, meanwhile, columnist Ezra Klein substitutes "Canada" for "China" in many of our worries, making them sound silly, to make the point that the true competition the White House is setting up isn't between China and the United States, but between the economic policies of Democrats and Republicans. He writes:
The hard question, in the end, isn't what to do about China. It's what to do about America. Framing the global economy as a competition rather than a shared enterprise preys on our fear of rising powers such as China and India. But, to the White House, it's for a good cause: It gets America's competitive juices flowing, helping galvanize us into making the changes and investments needed to secure our own future.