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David Brooks: America must be a magnet for talent

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by David Brooks

... America’s position in the world is changing. In the 20th century, America was the Big Dog nation. We had more money, more resources and more skilled labor, and we could outcompete our rivals by dominating the inputs and the outputs — by pouring in more talent, greater investments and more resources.

In the 21st century, the U.S. will no longer be the Big Dog. Human capital will be more broadly dispersed. There will be an array of affluent nations fully engaged in the global economy. Therefore, competitiveness will be more about organizing relationships than amassing force. To thrive, America will have to be the crossroads nation where global talent congregates and collaborates.

Parents in middle-class nations around the world should want to send their kids to American colleges. Young strivers should dream of working in Hollywood or Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs from Israel to Indonesia should be visiting venture-capital firms in San Francisco or capital markets in New York. Global engineers should want to learn the plastics techniques in Akron and retailers should learn branding and distribution in Bentonville and Park Slope.

In this century, economic competition between countries is less like the competition between armies or sports teams. It’s more like the competition between elite universities, who vie for prestige in a networked search for knowledge. It’s less: “We will crush you with our efficiency and might.” It’s more: “We have the best talent and the best values, so if you want to make the most of your own capacities, you’ll come join us.”

...

The nation with the most diverse creative hot spots will dominate the century.

If this is the nature of competitiveness, what is the role for government?

...

Government actively concentrates talent. City governments are used to thinking in this way, while national governments lag. For example, Robert Steel, the deputy mayor of New York City, gave an excellent speech on Dec. 16 on how to build a bioscience center in Brooklyn and how to build an engineering center on Staten Island or Roosevelt Island. The speech was about using government to build hubs.

Finally, the government has to work aggressively to reduce the human capital inequalities that open up in an innovation economy. That means early and constant interventions so everybody has a chance to participate.

President Obama exists because his father was drawn to study in the United States. Obama embodies America’s nascent role as the crossroads nation. Let’s see if he can describe the next phase of American greatness.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/opinion/25brooks.html

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