Monday, May 5, 2008

Nation building

In his recent New York Times editorial, Who Will Tell The People, Thomas Friedman writes about the state of our nation which is experiencing decay in its infrastructure, erosion in its achievement-oriented values, and displacement as a respected purveyor of greatness. Powerfully, Friedman asserts, like we talk of developing nations, that "people want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America." This is yet another way to express that our irrelevance is costly, and we have yet to focus on treating root causes.

Friedman writes: "We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.” What an irony! The values that we hold so dear, that we speak of as the values woven into the history and fabric of our nation, Friedman now classifies as "Asian values." We know where hard work and sacrifice leads because we lived by that credo, proudly, for decades. Where is the sense of urgency to regain our global respect and standing? What will motivate the revolution that we need to re-capture our national values and national pride?

Friedman gives another shameful and frightening example: "Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in 'downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.' Today, she added, 'China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.'" When we stop funding the high-tech intellectual pursuits and create disincentives for our talented to stay in the United States, what sort of brain drain are we creating? How deep will it permeate? How can we afford to be global thought leaders? What are our national goals instead, if not these?

We need to regain a sense of limitless possibility and dreams fueled by ingenuity, hard work, team spirit, and grand purpose for our nation. We need to move beyond lamenting the demise of the past and seek to design, craft, and celebrate the future for one and all.

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