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Michael Lind v. the Sputnik Moment
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January 26, 2011, 12:14 PM
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Michael Lind pre-responds in Salon to Obama`s State of the Union address conventional wisdom. Lind writes:

The claim that America`s K-12 system is inferior to that of other industrial nations is another myth whose purpose is to divert the attention of the American public from the real reasons for the offshoring of U.S. industry. Much has been made of the fact that, according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. ranks 12th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics. But the countries at the top of the list in 2009 — Korea, Finland, Hong-Kong China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Japan — tend to be small or homogeneous or both.

The overall PISA scores of American students are lowered by the poor results for blacks and Latinos, who make up 35 percent of America`s K-12 student population. Asian-American students have an average score of 541, similar to those of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. The non-Hispanic white American student average of 525 is comparable to the averages of Canada (524), New Zealand (521), and Australia (515). In contrast, the average PISA readings score of Latino students is 446 and black students is 441.

Unlike Asian immigrants, many of whom are college-educated professionals, Latino immigrants tend to be less educated than the American average. And both Latinos and blacks are disproportionately poor. ... America`s public school system works quite well, for non-poor native students. It is overwhelmed by a disproportionately black poor population, which suffers the legacy of centuries of discrimination, and a disproportionately unskilled and illiterate foreign-born population. Instead of scapegoating America`s K-12 schools, we need to combat family poverty directly, by means of job creation programs and a living wage, while admitting fewer poorly educated immigrants.

... But American CEOs who offshore production have no right to complain that too few Americans are going into science and engineering. Why should young Americans commit career suicide by entering occupations that are going to be offshored?

American multinationals are not shutting factories in the U.S. and transferring production to China because of China`s superior innovation culture or superior educational achievements. Nor are low Chinese wages the major factor.

I`m not sure about that, but let`s hear Lind out:

For the most part, multinationals are pressured or bribed by the Chinese dictatorship into producing in China. In some cases, U.S. multinationals are told they must produce inside China in order to have access to China`s large and growing consumer market. In other cases, multinationals are bribed to relocate production to China by enormous subsidies from the Chinese government.
... Why has the Obama administration in general, unlike some members of Congress, shown such a lack of urgency in addressing the issue of China`s currency tariff (itself only one of many instruments of Chinese economic nationalism)? One answer is suggested by a recent Financial Times article by Alan Beattie: "While the drive for currency legislation is noisy and conducted by practiced lobbyists in industries in steel and textiles that have canvassed for protection against exports, many US multinationals are far more interested in investing in China than exporting there." (emphasis added).
It`s a sad reflection on America`s corporate leaders that instead of being honest with their fellow Americans about the true reasons for offshoring, they tend to blame America first, peddling the insulting story that we Americans are not innovative or educated enough to compete with a poor, dictatorial nation like China. The blame-America-first story is peddled as well by American politicians who receive corporate campaign donations and, after retirement, lucrative corporate board memberships, pundits who get paid on the corporate speaking circuit and academic economists with big corporate consulting contracts. These co-opted opinion leaders join the executives of U.S.-based multinationals in trying to divert the attention of the American people from the mercantilist industrial policies of countries like China that do not practice America`s version of free-market capitalism and have no intention of doing so.

... Innovation and education are red herrings, tossed out to distract the American public from the real problem. If we were serious about competing with China, we would copy their tactics. ...
But the U.S. could emulate China by telling corporations that if they want access to America`s consumers they must produce at least a portion of the goods sold in the American market within America`s borders and employ American workers.

That`s what Reagan did in 1982 with Japanese car imports, although the existence of a vast Japanese car industry within America seems to have disappeared off the radar. It doesn`t work in theory, even though it seems to work in practice.