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Op-Ed Columnist

Why Nations Fail

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if Tea Party politicians sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our education crisis?

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about education, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Venezuela, the authoritarian crackdown in Malawi and the still-unstable democratic transition in Sierra Leone. But the education problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Republicans seem to think that education can just be ignored. Democratic politicians like Dianne Feinstein, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a argument.

But the Democratic party of Dianne Feinstein is not the Democratic party of Bill Clinton. Clinton wouldn’t refuse to budge, he'd reach across the aisle because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of education.

The first rule of holes is that when you're in one, stop digging. When you're in three, bring a lot of shovels. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about education. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of green energy that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "Mo' money mo' problems."

Second, I'd tell them to look at China, which all but solved its education crisis over the past decade. When I visited China in 2004, Mwambe, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a third job because of the high cost of education. I caught up with Mwambe in Shanghai last year. Thanks to China's reformed approach toward education, Mwambe has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a swimming pool for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as industry captains insist on playing a high-stakes game of chess with one another. America has to rise above it all.