The paragraphs below are clearly the best ones found in the Sunday newspaper. The various arguments about the pros and cons over the needed stimulus package designed to start moving the national economy is a topic that will not be answered anytime soon, not even after Congress passes a bill, and Barack Obama signs it into law. There will be ongoing discussions for months about the role of the stimulus package. Included in this debate are some large ideas about the future needs of the nation, and this article makes one of those bold ideas come to life.
One of the top needs facing the nation is a requirement for a new burst of educational training, and additional teachers to undertake this task. And it all should be done for some big new ideas.
You see, even before the current financial crisis, we were already in a deep competitive hole — a long period in which too many people were making money from money, or money from flipping houses or hamburgers, and too few people were making money by making new stuff, with hard-earned science, math, biology and engineering skills.
The financial crisis just made the hole deeper, which is why our stimulus needs to be both big and smart, both financially and educationally stimulating. It needs to be able to produce not only more shovel-ready jobs and shovel-ready workers, but more Google-ready jobs and Windows-ready and knowledge-ready workers.
If we spend $1 trillion on a stimulus and just get better highways and bridges — and not a new Google, Apple, Intel or Microsoft — your kids will thank you for making it so much easier for them to commute to the unemployment office or mediocre jobs.
Barack Obama gets it, but I’m not sure Congress does. “Yes,” Mr. Obama said on Thursday, “we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy.” Sure that means more smart grids and broadband highways, he added, but it also “means investing in the science, research and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries and entire new industries.”
But clean-tech projects like intelligent grids and broadband take a long time to implement. Can we stimulate both our economy and our people in time? Maybe rather than just giving everyone a quick $1,500 to hit the mall to buy flat-screen TVs imported from China, or creating those all-important green-collar jobs for low-skilled workers — to put people to work installing solar panels and insulating homes — we should also give everyone who is academically eligible and willing a quick $5,000 to go back to school. Universities today are the biggest employers in many Congressional districts, and they’re all having to downsize.
My wife teaches public school in Montgomery County, Md., where more and more teachers can’t afford to buy homes near the schools where they teach, and now have long, dirty commutes from distant suburbs. One of the smartest stimulus moves we could make would be to eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.
J.F.K. took us to the moon. Let B.H.O. take America back to school.
But that will take time. There’s simply no shortcut for a stimulus that stimulates minds not just salaries. “You can bail out a bank; you can’t bail out a generation,” says the great American inventor, Dean Kamen, who has designed everything from the Segway to artificial limbs. “You can print money, but you can’t print knowledge. It takes 12 years.”
Sure, we’ll waste some money doing that. That will happen with bridges, too. But a bridge is just a bridge. Once it’s up, it stops stimulating. A student who normally would not be interested in science but gets stimulated by a better teacher or more exposure to a lab, or a scientist who gets the funding for new research, is potentially the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. They create good jobs for years. Perhaps more bridges can bail us out of a depression, but only more Bills and Steves can bail us into prosperity.