Can America Restore Its Competitive Edge?

The Wilson Center hosted a panel discussion this morning focusing on what government, business, and educators can do to restore U.S. competitiveness through long-term improvements in the K-12 education system and public policy. The event brought together five experts for a dialogue led by moderator David Wessel, Chief Economic Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

The panel discussion highlighted the importance of manufacturing in U.S. competitiveness. Norm Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, pointed out that advanced manufacturing is not only essential for the U.S. economy, but also for national security. Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness, added that stimulating the growth of manufacturing hubs and clusters will help spur innovation and progress within the industry. Two of the most significant problems that need to be addressed are outsourcing and the shortage of skilled labor.

Combating outsourcing can be done through changes in corporate tax policy, Business Roundtable President John Engler asserted, such as simplifying and reducing it. This will give businesses more incentive to stay in the US. Paul Vallas, former superintendent of schools in Chicago, Philadelphia and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, adds that not only do changes need to be made at the federal level, but also at the state and local level, especially with entitlements and tax policy.

Jan Rivkin, a professor at Harvard Business School, explained that a less restrictive immigration policy can bring in a large influx of skilled laborers that many firms need. Engler pointed to heightened partisanship in politics during the last few years for keeping a comprehensive immigration policy from being pushed through Congress.

The panelists also agreed that reforms in the education system can address the shortage of skilled labor. Vallas asserted that the K-12 education system in the U.S. has failed to evolve, and identified two major issues – the school days and year are too short, and the teachers are not good enough. As such, the education system needs to be modernized and given more flexibility to adapt to changing demands. He suggested that we bring a “free enterprise system” to education; pay STEM teachers more, pay excellent teachers more, pay mediocre teachers less, and fire incompetent teachers.

A full webcast and podcast of the event is available on the Wilson Center event page.

Posted by: Pokyee Yu

Sources: The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Photo Credit: David Hawxhurst/WWICS

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