David Brooks' "Fresh start conservatism"

In the New York Times, columnist David Brooks suggests if conservatives were willing to be a little more pragmatic and focused on long-term objectives, they could chart a new course for the country:

In the 19th century, industrialization swept the world. Many European nations expanded their welfare states but kept their education systems exclusive. The U.S. tried the opposite approach. American leaders expanded education and created the highest quality work force on the planet.

That quality work force was the single biggest reason the U.S. emerged as the economic superpower of the 20th century. Generation after generation, American workers were better educated, more industrious and more innovative than the ones that came before.

That progress stopped about 30 years ago. The percentage of young Americans completing college has been stagnant for a generation. As well-educated boomers retire over the next decades, the quality of the American work force is likely to decline. Mitt Romney captured the consequences in his withdrawal statement: “I am convinced that unless America changes course, we will become the France of the 21st century — still a great nation, but no longer the leader of the world.”

Americans feel the slippage every day.

If I were advising the Republican nominee, this is one of the places I’d ask him to plant his flag. I’d ask him to call for a new human capital revolution, so that the U.S. could recapture the spirit of reforms like the Morrill Act of the 19th century, the high school movement of the early 20th century and the G.I. Bill after World War II.

Doing that would mean taking on the populists of the left and right, the ones who imagine the problem is globalization and unfair trade when in fact the real problem is that the talents of American workers are not keeping up with technological change.

Doing that would also mean stealing ideas from both the left and right. Liberals have spent more time thinking about human capital than conservatives, who have tended to imagine that if you build a free market, a quality labor force would magically appear.

Bold thinking ... but Brooks may be onto something. Bill Clinton redefined his administration and fought back against a GOP-held Congress by incorporating some conservative points into his agenda. Shrewd conservatives may be wise to take a page from the Clinton playbook if they want to prevail this year.

6 Response to "David Brooks' "Fresh start conservatism""

  1. Rob W. 16/2/08 13:11
    From my experience as a graduate teaching assistant at a very good Georgia university and my discussions with a graduate teaching assistant at a middle-of-the-road Georgia university, I'm not sure just putting more freshmen into college is going to solve anything, other than to boost the student loan industry. Most kids who get decent grades and want to go to college are already there, and many of them probably shouldn't be.

    Brooks is right that if any change is needed, it will have to be drastic. I'm not sure what that is, but sending more kids to college without better preparing them for it won't help anyone.
  2. Earl Capps 16/2/08 13:45
    Rob, interesting point you raise.

    I think we need to reassess higher education directions for youth. We push and push and push to get students to pursue four year degrees, and in doing so, have steered students away from pursuing one or two year technical degrees and certifications.

    If you look at workforce needs in a lot of areas, the number of four year degree holders is relatively sufficient, the number of high school educated is usually way over the workforce demand, but there is almost always a dire lack of mid-level workers with hands-on technical education.

    We've lost a lot of low-skilled industry to overseas, which we never had a prayer of keeping because their unskilled labor was just as good as ours, for a fraction of the labor costs. What is going to kill us is when we start losing industry for lack of skilled technicians, mechanics, floor supervisors, etc.

    When we lose jobs that pay minimum wage, that's one thing. When we start losing jobs which pay two or three or four times minimum wage, that'll have a major impact upon our economy.

    I would submit that some of those that you point out aren't ready for college might be better suited to pursue a vo-tech education direction. We need to stop downplaying the value of a hands-on technical education and consider that for some, it's the field of study that might best unlock their potential.

    Whether it's an associate's degree in welding technology or a bachelor's degree in english, a college education should be able to provide a higher level of education upon which to establish a solid career as a skilled specialist in ones field.
  3. Anonymous 16/2/08 16:02
  4. Rob W. 16/2/08 23:06
    Mr. Capps- great point, I totally agree.
  5. moye graham 16/2/08 23:18
    mr. capps i agree
  6. Moye Graham 16/2/08 23:19
    Mr. Capps I agree.

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