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A hopeful vision for the future
on July 27, 2005
RF has written an excellent followup to his first book. His concept that the U.S. is suffering a "brain drain" has been discussed pretty thoroughly by other reviewers, so I won't rehash it, other than to say that I think he's right on the button. The title, in fact, reflects only part of the story: what I found most stimulating about the book is his suggestions for the future.
I think that his recommendations about education are excellent. He does NOT say that a college education is a necessary prerequisite for prosperity; rather, he points out that the present U.S. educational system doesn't foster (and indeed squelches) the creativity, flexibility, and initiative that students need to succeed in today's volatile economy. While training a nation of workplace drones and mindless consumers might have been expedient in the age of large factories, it's counterproductive today and represents an immense waste of human abilities, especially if we're losing the influx of immigrant talent and ambition that has fueled our economy up to now. (Current educational reforms, e.g., No Student Left Behind, are a step backwards in their focus on rote memorization and standardized tests; the aim appears to be to create easily measurable results to make a political point.)
It's noteworthy that RF doesn't take sides politically: while he bewails the political climate that has led to the "flight of the creative class," he also deplores the increased polarization of the major parties, which has more to do with Washington power politics than with voters' actual beliefs. (He's right about that: it's a pity that the "purple America" map from the 2004 election reproduced so poorly in the book, because it makes the important point that we're not nearly as divided a nation as we're made out to be.) He faults the Republicans for being wedded to old-money industries such as oil, but faults the Democrats equally for buying into the nineteenth-century business model by catering to unions. And both parties have failed equally in recognizing what truly drives the U.S. economy (hint to some previous reviewers: it's not just money).
As for the commonly expressed criticism that RF is glorifying an effete, self-centered "creative class" while ignoring the unwashed masses, do the math: these people prospered economically not because they inherited money, but because they WORKED FOR IT. Regional success stories such as Silicon Valley and Seattle were built, not by trust-fund babies (or, for that matter, on Enron-style accounting), but by people who committed themselves passionately to a project, took financial risks, and worked long hours. His suggestions in the later sections of the book have to do, not with keeping the "creative class" exclusive, but with improving both the work environment and the educational system so that the rest of society can draw upon their own creativity to achieve the same personal and financial success.