This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

October 1, 2008

The Leader Stumbles

For years, the United States held the position as "the leader of the free world". Now, when we look at various current statistics, it is difficult to make that case. The US has fallen behind in some key areas that are critical to its competitiveness on the world stage.

For years now, we have reported about the deficits in the US system of education, especially compared to those in other countries. According to the most recent assessment of students by OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the US ranks 25th in math and 21st in science among students from 30 member countries.

Reflecting this situation, China has more honor students than the US has students. Over half of the graduate students in science and math fields are from abroad. Foreign students used to stay in the US post-graduation to take jobs offered to them by US firms. Restrictive immigration policies now prevent most from staying.

The solution begins with early childhood education. According to the Partnership for America's Economic Success, no other investment in society comes close to the 16 percent return realized when these investments are made. Our schools need to emphasize the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), similar to what the FIRST initiative supports. (See our Herman Trend Alert from April 4, 2007, "Robots Teach Kids Gracious Professionalism")

The performance of the US in the area of healthcare is even more dismal. In spite of having the highest percentage of GDP spent on healthcare in the world (16.0 percent), the US has the second highest rate infant mortality, 6.30 per 1,000 births, behind China at 21.16. The country is seventh in life expectancy at 78.14 years, behind France (80.87), Sweden (80.74), Israel (80.61), Norway (79.81), Germany (19.10), and the United Kingdom (78.85). Singapore even beats France at 81.8 years.

Moreover, when it comes to digital infrastructure, Internet access, and cell phone coverage, the US does not rank well there either. All of these shortfalls reflect serious vulnerability. At some point in the future, US government leaders will realize the seriousness of this situation and take decisive action. What is needed is much more than a Band-Aid™. The situation demands systemic change. Unfortunately, the current economic situation may well postpone that response.

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