Friday, January 27, 2012

What I Read Today - Friday January 27, 2012

From: The New York Times

Hope, but Not Much Change

By DAVID BROOKS


The Simpson-Bowles report wasn’t just a policy document. For a few months, it expanded the national debate. Everybody seemed to realize that the country was beset by large challenges that could no longer be neglected: soaring debt, lagging growth, wage stagnation, family breakdown, political dysfunction.

Suddenly, there was a sense of urgency. There were grand plans coming from all directions.

A bipartisan group of 65 senators gathered to think about government afresh. The Times had a fantastic online budget calculator to let readers reinvent government according to their own priorities.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation asked six think tanks from across the political spectrum to offer fiscal solutions. The proposals teemed with big ideas: fundamental tax reform that would simplify the code and boost growth; fundamental entitlement reform to restrain cost; doubling spending on science, pre-K education and adult retraining; taxing fossil fuels to spur innovation; shifting from a consumption-led to an investment-led economy.

It’s sad to compare that era of bigness to the medium-sized policy morsels that President Obama put in his State of the Union address. He had some big themes in the speech, but the policies were mere appetizers. The Republicans absurdly call Obama a European socialist on the stump, but the Obama we saw Tuesday night was a liberal incrementalist.

There was nothing big, like tax reform or entitlement reform. There was no comprehensive effort to restore trust in government by sweeping away the tax credits and special-interest schemes that entangle Washington. Ninety percent of American workers work in the service economy, but Obama spoke mostly about manufacturing.

Instead, there were a series of modest proposals that poll well. In that sense, it was the Democratic version of Newt Gingrich’s original “Contract With America” — a series of medium-size ideas with 80 percent approval ratings.

Some of Obama’s ideas are outstanding. Presidential nominees should get an up-or-down vote within 90 days. We should connect community colleges more closely with labor markets. We should raise the income tax rates for millionaires back to Clinton-era levels. We should responsibly promote fracking to develop natural gas.

Some of the ideas were lamentable. Instead of simplifying the tax code, Obama would muddy it up with more tax loopholes for corporations as long as they conformed to this or that industrial policy.

Some of the ideas were just inexplicable. Is the government really going to defund Ivy League science labs if Ivy League colleges raise their tuitions?

But the core point is that these policies are incremental, not transformational. You could pass them all and the country might be slightly better off or slightly worse off, but it wouldn’t be on a different trajectory.

It’s odd that an administration that once wanted to do everything all at once now should be so gradualist. Maybe its members were scarred by the traumas of health care and the 2010 election. Maybe they just want to win the election, so every policy has to be politically easy instead of politically challenging.

Maybe the president’s aides believe that most of our problems are overhyped. I have heard them hint that in dozens of interviews. To balance the budget, we only need to bend revenues and taxes a bit. To compete with China, we only need to shift the playing field a bit.

Maybe the president’s cautious tendencies are just coming out.

In normal times, that sober, incremental approach would be admirable. In normal times, the best sort of change is gradual, flexible and constant. But these are not normal times. This is not Clinton’s second term, or Eisenhower’s. The fiscal train wreck is coming. The current U.S. growth model is insufficient. The American family and the American political system are cracking up.

Legislatively, the president has to build a center-left governing majority that can overwhelm those Republicans who will never support him. That can be done only with ground-shifting policies. Politically, the president has to resonate with voters who feel the country is on the wrong track. Prudentially, the president has to prepare for the likelihood that the economy is going to hit another rough patch this year — if Greece leaves the euro or if the French banks implode or if the Iranian crisis comes to a head. If any of that happens, the desire for profound change would be overwhelming and the candidate with a few carefully targeted tax credits would get blown away.

This election is about averting national decline. The president is making a mistake in ceding the size advantage to the Republicans. The Republicans at least speak with epic alarm about the nation’s problems. They are unified behind big tax and welfare state reforms that would purge Washington and shake things up.

The president is making a mistake in running a Sunset Boulevard campaign: I am big; it’s my presidency that got small.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday January 24, 2012

From: The New York Times

Free-Market Socialism


By DAVID BROOKS

I hope President Obama read about Maddie Parlier as he was working on his State of the Union address. Parlier is the subject of Adam Davidson’s illuminating article in the current issue of The Atlantic.

Parlier’s father abandoned her when she was young and crashed his car while driving drunk, killing himself and a family of four. Maddie is smart and hard-working. She did reasonably well in high school but got pregnant her senior year.

She and the father of her child split up, which put the kibosh on her college dreams because she couldn’t afford day care. She temped for a while. Her work ethic got her noticed, and she got a job as an unskilled laborer at Standard Motor Products, which makes fuel injectors.

Parlier earns about $13 an hour. She’d like to become one of the better-paid workers in the plant, but, in today’s factories, that requires an enormous leap in skills. It feels cruel, Davidson writes, to mention all the things Parlier would have to learn to move up. She doesn’t know the computer language that runs the machines. “She doesn’t know trigonometry or calculus, and she’s never studied the properties of cutting tools or metals. She doesn’t know how to maintain a tolerance of 0.25 microns, or what tolerance means in this context, or what a micron is.”

A good attitude and hustle have taken Parlier as far as they can. It’s hard, given her situation, to acquire the skills she needs to realize the American dream.

Davidson’s article is important because it shows the interplay between economic forces (globalization and technology) and social forces (single parenthood and the breakdown of community support). Globalization and technological change increase the demands on workers; social decay makes it harder for them to meet those demands.

Across America, millions of mothers can’t rise because they don’t have adequate support systems as they try to improve their skills. Tens of millions of children have poor life chances because they grow up in disorganized environments that make it hard to acquire the social, organizational and educational skills they will need to become productive workers.

Tens of millions of men have marred life chances because schools are bad at educating boys, because they are not enmeshed in the long-term relationships that instill good habits and because insecure men do stupid and self-destructive things.

Over the past 40 years, women’s wages have risen sharply but, as Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Hamilton Project point out, median incomes of men have dropped 28 percent and male labor force participation rates are down 16 percent. Next time somebody talks to you about wage stagnation, have them break it down by sex. It’s not only globalization and technological change causing this stagnation. It’s the deterioration of the moral and social landscape, especially for men.

The idiocy of our current political debate is that neither side seems capable of talking about the interplay of economic and social forces. Most of the Republican candidates talk as if all that is needed is more capitalism. But lighter regulation and lower taxes won’t, on their own, help the Maddie Parliers of the world get the skills they need to compete.

Democrats, meanwhile, have shifted their emphasis from lifting up the poor to pounding down the rich. Democratic candidates no longer emphasize early childhood education and community-building. Instead they embrace the pseudo-populist Occupy Wall Street hokum — the opiate of the educated classes.

This materialistic ethos emphasizes reducing inequality instead of expanding opportunity. Its policy prescriptions begin (and sometimes end) with raising taxes on the rich. This makes you feel better if you detest all the greed-heads who went into finance. It does nothing to address those social factors, like family breakdown, that help explain why American skills have not kept up with technological change.

If President Obama is really serious about restoring American economic dynamism, he needs an aggressive two-pronged approach: More economic freedom combined with more social structure; more competition combined with more support.

As a survey of nearly 10,000 Harvard Business School grads by Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin makes clear, to get companies to locate their plants in the U.S., Obama is going to have to simplify the tax code, cut corporate rates, streamline regulations, make immigration policy more flexible and balance the budget over the long term.

To ensure there’s skilled labor for those plants, Obama would have to champion different policies: successful training programs like Job Corps, better coordination between colleges and employers, better treatment for superstar teachers, more child care options and better early childhood education.

This agenda is libertarian in the capitalist sector and activist in the human capital sector. Don’t triangulate meekly toward the center; select bold policies from both ends. That’s what would help Maddie Parlier and millions like her.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What I Read Today - Monday January 23, 2012

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1 - NIV

Monday, January 16, 2012

What I Read Today - Monday January 16, 2012

From:  The New York Times

January 16, 2012, 8:03 am


Passport for Life

By MASHA GESSEN

A portion of the author’s Russian internal passport.

MOSCOW — As of last Friday, I am an undocumented person in my own country. I cannot open or close a bank account, receive medical care at a state clinic, buy a cellphone, return a purchase to a store or enter into a contract, which my job requires me to do several times a day. All of these operations and many more require a valid internal passport, a peculiar document that may be the most significant vestige of the U.S.S.R. in modern Russian society.

Back when we lived behind the Iron Curtain, these passports entitled us to travel only within the confines of the Soviet Union. Anyone lucky enough to be allowed to travel abroad was issued a special foreign-travel passport just for the occasion and had to surrender it upon returning home. When Russians acquired the right to travel freely, they got to keep their foreign-travel passports. But the internal passport refused to die. So now each adult Russian citizen has two passports. The documents look alike, except that the one for internal use is printed on lighter paper stock, making it feel less substantial.

The internal passport may sound like the identity document that citizens of many European countries are required to hold, but none of those are as comprehensive or as intrusive.

Pages 2 and 3 contain issuing information and the bearer’s name, date and place of birth. This is standard fare.

Pages 4 through 11 are reserved for stamps certifying the bearer’s legal right to reside at a particular address. In Soviet times, this was as close as most citizens got to having property rights: The state issued residential quarters and then, with a stamp in the passport, certified the person’s right to live there. Now, the old residence-permit system and the new private-property system exist side by side. One can purchase an apartment and be denied the legal right to reside in it. Or one can retain the legal right to live on a property that belongs to someone else.

Pages 12 and 13 are marked “Military Duty.” All Russian males and a fair number of the females (those who studied foreign languages and could serve as translators) are subject to mandatory military service. A man under 29 whose passport does not reflect that he has either carried out or been released from his military service may be detained by any policeman and delivered to a draft office to be shipped off. This happens often enough.

Pages 14 and 15 are reserved for marital status. Upon marrying or divorcing, one acquires a corresponding stamp. Pages 16 and 17 are where the names of one’s children go — as long as they are under 14, whereupon they have to get their own internal passports.

The last two pages of the passport contain information on one’s foreign-travel passport, as well as, optionally, one’s blood type.

Every time I initiate a bank transaction in person, return an item to a store or enter into a contract, I share all of this personal information with perfect strangers.

Or shared. Last Friday I turned 45, and my internal passport expired. One gets one’s first internal passport at 14 and turns it in for a new one at 20 and then again, as a government Web site puts it, “in case one reaches the age of 45” — a simple reminder of the fact that a lot of Russians don’t. When I do get my new passport, I am expected to carry it for the rest of my life, probably because the government doesn’t expect that to be a very long time.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Masha Gessen is a journalist in Moscow. Her biography of Vladimir Putin, “The Man Without a Face,” will be published March 1.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What I Read Today - Saturday January 14, 2012

From:  The New York Times

The C.E.O. in Politics

By DAVID BROOKS


There are two questions concerning Mitt Romney’s service at the private equity firm Bain Capital. The narrower question is: Did Bain help ailing companies and add value to the economy or did it plunder dying firms? The larger question is: Does Romney’s success in business tell us anything about whether he would be a successful president?

Let’s tackle the bigger question here.

At first blush, business success would seem to be good preparation for political success. A C.E.O. learns to set priorities, manage organizations and hone analytic skills. But these traits are more transferable to being a mayor, which is more administrative, than to being president.

Moreover, for every Michael Bloomberg who successfully moves from business to politics, there is a Jon Corzine, Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Regan, Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina — former executives who were either unsuccessful in political office or who couldn’t get elected in the first place. If you look back over history, you see that while business success can sensitize a politician to the realities other executives face, there’s little correlation between business success and political success.

The traits that actually correlate with successful presidencies have deeper roots.

First, successful presidents tend to be emotionally secure. They have none of the social resentments and desperate needs that plagued men like Richard Nixon. Instead they were raised, often in an aristocratic family, with a sense that they were the natural leaders of the nation. They were infused, often at an elite prep school, with a sense of obligation and responsibility to perform public service.

Whether it is a George Washington, a Franklin or Theodore Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy, this sort of president enters the White House with ease and confidence, is relatively unscathed by the criticism of the crowd, is able to separate the mask he must wear for public display from the real honest self he knows himself to be.

This sense of emotional security can also be found in great military leaders, like Dwight Eisenhower, and in serenely successful movie stars, like Ronald Reagan.

Second, great presidents tend to have superb political judgment. In his essay on this subject, Isaiah Berlin defines political judgment as “a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing, multicolored, evanescent perpetually overlapping data.”

A president with political judgment has a subtle feel for the texture of his circumstance. He has a feel for where opportunities lie, what will go together and what will never go together. This implicit knowledge is developed slowly in people like Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson who have spent decades as political insiders and who have a rich repertoire of experiences to draw on.

It also comes from voracious social contact. It comes to leaders who have a compulsive desire to be around people and who can harvest from a million social encounters a sense of what people want and can deliver.

Third, great leaders have often experienced crushing personal setbacks. This experience, whether it’s Lincoln’s depression or F.D.R.’s polio, not only gives them a sense of sympathy for those who are suffering, but a personal contact with frailty. They are resilient when things go wrong. They know how dependent they are on others, how prone they are to overconfidence. They are both modest, because they have felt weakness, and aggressive, because they know how hard it is to change anything.

Finally, great leaders tend to have an instrumental mentality. They do not feel the office is about them. They are just God’s temporary instrument in service of a larger cause. Lincoln felt he was God’s instrument in preserving the union. F.D.R. felt he was an instrument to help the common man and defeat fascism.

This sense of being an instrument gives them an organizing purpose. It gives them a longer perspective, so they don’t get distracted by ephemera. It means their administration marches in one direction, even though it is flexible and willing to accept incremental gains along the way.

In sum, great presidents are often aristocrats and experienced political insiders. They experience great setbacks. They feel the presence of God’s hand on their every move.

Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to talk about these things openly these days. We disdain elitism, political experience and explicit God-talk. Great failure is considered “baggage” in today’s campaign lingo.

Today’s candidates have to invent bogus story lines to explain their qualifications to be president — that they are innocent outsiders or business whizzes. In reality, Romney’s Bain success is largely irrelevant to the question of whether he could be a good president. The real question is whether he has picked up traits like emotional security, political judgment and an instrumental mind-set from his upbringing and the deeper experiences of life.

We’ll learn more about that as he confronts brutal attacks that now besiege him.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday January 10, 2012

From: The New York Times

Where Are the Liberals?

By DAVID BROOKS


Why aren’t there more liberals in America?

It’s not because liberalism lacks cultural power. Many polls suggest that a majority of college professors and national journalists vote Democratic. The movie, TV, music and publishing industries are dominated by liberals.

It’s not because recent events have disproved the liberal worldview. On the contrary, we’re still recovering from a financial crisis caused, in large measure, by Wall Street excess. Corporate profits are zooming while worker salaries are flat.

It’s not because liberalism’s opponents are going from strength to strength. The Republican Party is unpopular and sometimes embarrassing.

Given the circumstances, this should be a golden age of liberalism. Yet the percentage of Americans who call themselves liberals is either flat or in decline. There are now two conservatives in this country for every liberal. Over the past 40 years, liberalism has been astonishingly incapable at expanding its market share.

The most important explanation is what you might call the Instrument Problem. Americans may agree with liberal diagnoses, but they don’t trust the instrument the Democrats use to solve problems. They don’t trust the federal government.

A few decades ago they did, but now they don’t. Roughly 10 percent of Americans trust government to do the right thing most of the time, according to an October New York Times, CBS News poll.

Why don’t Americans trust their government? It’s not because they dislike individual programs like Medicare. It’s more likely because they think the whole system is rigged. Or to put it in the economists’ language, they believe the government has been captured by rent-seekers.

This is the disease that corrodes government at all times and in all places. As George F. Will wrote in a column in Sunday’s Washington Post, as government grows, interest groups accumulate, seeking to capture its power and money.

Some of these rent-seeking groups are corporate types. Will notes that the federal government delivers sugar subsidies that benefit a few rich providers while imposing costs on millions of consumers.

Other rent-seeking groups are dispersed across the political spectrum. The tax code has been tweaked 4,428 times in the past 10 years, to the benefit of interests of left, right and center.

Others exercise their power transparently and democratically. As Will notes, in 2009, the net worth of households headed by senior citizens was 47 times the net worth of households led by people under 35. Yet seniors use their voting power to protect programs that redistribute even more money from the young to the old and affluent.

You would think that liberals would have a special incentive to root out rent-seeking. Yet this has not been a major priority. There is no Steve Jobs figure in American liberalism insisting that the designers keep government simple, elegant and user-friendly. Sailors scrub their ships. Farmers clear weeds. Democrats have not spent a lot of time scraping barnacles off the state.

Worse, in an attempt to match Republican rhetoric, Democratic politicians are perpetually soiling the name of government for the sake of short-term gain. How many times have you heard Democrats from Carter to Obama running against Washington, accusing it of being insular, shortsighted, corrupt and petty? If the surgeon himself thinks his tools are rancid, why shouldn’t you?

In the past few weeks, the Obama administration has begun his presidential campaign by picking a series of small fights with the Republican-led House over things like recess appointments. These vicious squabbles may help Obama in the short term by making him look better than Republicans in Congress. But they will only further discredit Washington over the long run.

Life is unfair. Republican venality unintentionally reinforces the conservative argument that government is corrupt. Democratic venality undermines the Democratic argument that Washington can be trusted to do good.

Liberalism has not expanded because it has not had a Martin Luther, a leader committed to stripping away the corruptions, complexities and indulgences that have grown up over the years.

If you’ll forgive some outside advice, President Obama might consider running for re-election as Luther. It’s not enough to pick a series of small squabbles and then win as the least ugly man in the room. He might run as someone who believes in government but sees how much it needs to be cleansed and purified.

Make the tax code simple. Make job training simple. Make Medicare simple. Every week choose a rent-seeker to hold up for ridicule and renunciation. Change the Congressional rules. Simplify the legal thickets that undermine responsibility.

If Democrats can’t restore Americans’ trust in government, it really doesn’t matter what problems they identify and what plans they propose. No one will believe in the instrument they rely on for solutions.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What I Read Today - Thursday January 5, 2012

A Youngster's Bright Idea Is Something New Under the Sun


By SOPHIA HOLLANDER

NORTHPORT, N.Y.—A new way of collecting solar energy has polarized scientists around the world and ignited fierce debate on the Internet, where the innovator in question has been called everything from an alien to the agent of a global conspiracy.

13-year-old Aidan Dwyer developed a new way to collect solar energy, and along the way sparked a fierce debate among scholars and scientists. He joins the News Hub to tell his story. Photo: Claudio Papapietro for The Wall Street Journal

Maybe a better title would be an intellectual Hannah Montana. That's because the scientist, Aidan Dwyer, is 13 years old.

This past summer, Aidan won a national science competition with what seemed to be a bright idea: His research appeared to show that solar panels arrayed like the leaves on a tree collect sunlight more efficiently than traditional setups.

Many people on the Web called the Long Island teenager a "genius" who had achieved a true "breakthrough" in solar power. Others praised him for proving that nature's own designs are superior to man's.

But there was one little problem: To prove his hypothesis, Aidan had measured the wrong thing.

As readers figured out the mistake, the Internet went supernova. Commenters and bloggers attacked Aidan with vitriol usually saved for political enemies and the Kardashians. Blogs decried his experiment as "bad science" and "impossible nonsense." Someone called him "an alien—a cool one, though."

Aidan and his family watched in amazement as strangers around the world debated his intelligence and abilities, as well as his opinion of subjects generally beyond the scope of a suburban boy his age: politics, evolution and the state of modern society, for example.

He got some constructive advice, said Aidan's mother, Maureen. "Then there were people who were just—"

"Haters," Aidan chimed in with a grin.

The legitimacy of his original idea remains unsettled, though scientists are skeptical. Aidan is now revamping his experiment as he maneuvers around homework, sleepovers and the odd curfew violation.

But there is no disputing that he has become a star. Many in the scientific community are championing his intellectual curiosity and graceful ability to weather an Internet firestorm, making him a hot speaker at events around the world.

"It looks like there is some validity to what he's come up with. But even if there wasn't any validity, I wanted to give this young man the opportunity to sort of say, 'Here's what I learned and here's what I did,'" said Andrew Zolli, the executive director of PopTech, a nonprofit organization focused on innovation.

In October, Aidan got a standing ovation from more than 500 people at PopTech's annual innovation conference in Maine after discussing his work and touching on the controversy.

He has been invited to address 300 undergraduate engineering students at New York University in the spring. He has received a provisional patent for his research. He has had, and declined, friend requests on Facebook from venture capitalists.

After viewing one of his talks on YouTube, organizers of World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi invited Aidan to participate—and offered to fly his family over, too. He is scheduled to speak at the event's opening ceremony this month.

"Our mandate is to look for great minds, talents, technology innovations around the world," said Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of Masdar, a company owned by the Abu Dhabi government that founded and hosts the conference. "We need thousands of Aidans to help transform the way we produce and consume energy."

On a recent afternoon, Aidan and his parents admitted they were somewhat baffled by the attention for a project that began two years ago on a winter hiking trip through the Catskill Mountains.

Aidan, then 11, stared at the tree branches denuded of leaves and noticed they looked alike; he wondered why. Back home, his parents encouraged him to research the subject. Google searches uncovered that a mathematical concept called the Fibonacci number sequence underlies the structure of tree branches.

His parents had been hoping to install solar panels on their Long Island house, but their yard was too small and their roof wasn't suitable. There was, however, enough room for a tree. Perhaps, Aidan postulated, trees arranged their branches to improve the collection of sunlight. If he used the Fibonacci sequence to imitate that design with solar panels replacing leaves, maybe the structure could fit his family's limited space, look pretty—and power the house.

He did chores to earn the money to buy about $75 worth of materials. With help from his father—and after many mistakes—Aidan ended up with two models: a traditional flat-panel array and a tree-shaped solar collector designed to mimic the branch sequence of an oak tree. Over the course of months he compared measurements. To his delight, the tree structure's numbers were higher.

Exuberantly, he submitted the results to the Young Naturalist Awards, a national contest run by the American Museum of Natural History. Of 700 entries, his was picked as one of 12 winners.

"Then," Aidan said with a slight smile, "things got out of hand."

As the report went viral, attacked and championed in hundreds of comments, museum officials became worried. "We do think it's really important that information that we put forth is scientifically accurate," said Rosamond Kinzler, senior director of science education at the museum. They were also concerned for Aidan, she said.

Critics had a point: Aidan had recorded voltage, when he needed to calculate power. It is a serious flaw, explained Jan Kleissl, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, San Diego.

Imagine a water pipe, he said. Voltage is equivalent to water pressure. Current is the size of the pipe. Power is equal to the flow of water out of the pipe, which depends on both variables.

Dr. Kleissl praised Aidan's work, but added that even if Aidan had measured the right variables, "I'm certain that he will not find that his arrangement is better," he said. "I think it's a romantic ideal that nature has many lessons for us, and there are a few cases where this is true, but in the majority of cases we could teach nature, in a way, how to be better, faster."

On a recent afternoon, Aidan showed a visitor his newest model, tweaked to respond to his critics: a towering seven-foot tree form adorned with solar panels and painted green. He is now measuring current and power. So far, he said, the tree continues to outperform the traditional panel. "I'm thinking that it could actually change the world."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What I Read Today - Wednesday January 4, 2012

January 3, 2012


So Much Fun. So Irrelevant.

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Two things have struck me about the Republican presidential candidate debates leading up to the Iowa caucuses. One is how entertaining they were. The other is how disconnected they were from the biggest trends shaping the job market of the 21st century. What if the 2012 campaign were actually about the world in which we’re living and how we adapt to it? What would the candidates be talking about?

Surely at or near the top of that list would be the tightening merger between globalization and the latest information technology revolution. The I.T. revolution is giving individuals more and more cheap tools of innovation, collaboration and creativity — thanks to hand-held computers, social networks and “the cloud,” which stores powerful applications that anyone can download. And the globalization side of this revolution is integrating more and more of these empowered people into ecosystems, where they can innovate and manufacture more products and services that make people’s lives more healthy, educated, entertained, productive and comfortable.

The best of these ecosystems will be cities and towns that combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community and the fastest broadband connections on earth. These will be the job factories of the future. The countries that thrive will be those that build more of these towns that make possible “high-performance knowledge exchange and generation,” explains Blair Levin, who runs the Aspen Institute’s Gig.U project, a consortium of 37 university communities working to promote private investment in next-generation ecosystems.

Historians have noted that economic clusters always required access to abundant strategic inputs for success, says Levin. In the 1800s, it was access to abundant flowing water and raw materials. In the 1900s, it was access to abundant electricity and transportation. In the 2000s, he said, “it will be access to abundant bandwidth and abundant human intellectual capital,” — places like Silicon Valley, Austin, Boulder, Cambridge and Ann Arbor.

But we need many more of these. As the world gets wired together through the Web and social networks, and as more and more sensors run machines that are talking to other machines across the Internet, we are witnessing the emergence of “Big Data.” These are the mountains of data coming out of all these digital interactions, which can then be collected, sifted, mined and analyzed — like raw materials of old — to provide the raw material for new inventions in health care, education, manufacturing and retailing.

“We’re all aware of the approximately two billion people now on the Internet — in every part of the planet, thanks to the explosion of mobile technology,” I.B.M.’s chairman, Samuel Palmisano, said in a speech last September. “But there are also upward of a trillion interconnected and intelligent objects and organisms — what some call the Internet of Things. All of this is generating vast stores of information. It is estimated that there will be 44 times as much data and content coming over the next decade ...reaching 35 zettabytes in 2020. A zettabyte is a 1 followed by 21 zeros. And thanks to advanced computation and analytics, we can now make sense of that data in something like real time.”

The more information and trends you are able to mine and analyze, and the more talented human capital, bandwidth and computing power you apply to that data, the more innovation you’ll get.

When eight doctors from around the world can look at the same M.R.I. in real time, said Levin, it enables the acceleration of small breakthroughs, which is where big breakthroughs eventually come from. Big bandwidth, he added, would enable these same doctors doing high-risk surgery to practice the life-saving procedures in advance over network-enabled simulators, leading to better results, new kinds of surgical innovations and new forms of medical education. Big bandwidth, combined with 3-D printers, would also allow for the rapid prototyping of all kinds of manufactured products that can then be made anywhere.

Right now, though, notes Levin, America is focused too much on getting “average” bandwidth to the last 5 percent of the country in rural areas, rather than getting “ultra-high-speed” bandwidth to the top 5 percent, in university towns, who will invent the future. By the end of 2012, he adds, South Korea intends to connect every home in the country to the Internet at one gigabit per second. “That would be a tenfold increase from the already blazing national standard, and more than 200 times as fast as the average household setup in the United States,” The Times reported last February.

Therefore, the critical questions for America today have to be how we deploy more ultra-high-speed networks and applications in university towns to invent more high-value-added services and manufactured goods and how we educate more workers to do these jobs — the only way we can maintain a middle class.

I just don’t remember any candidate being asked in those really entertaining G.O.P. debates: “How do you think smart cities can become the job engines of the future, and what is your plan to ensure that America has a strategic bandwidth advantage?”

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday January 3, 2012

From: The New York Times - January 2, 2012

Workers of the World, Unite!

By DAVID BROOKS


Ottumwa, Iowa

The Republican Party is the party of the white working class. This group — whites with high school degrees and maybe some college — is still the largest block in the electorate. They overwhelmingly favor Republicans.

It’s a diverse group, obviously, but its members generally share certain beliefs and experiences. The economy has been moving away from them. The ethnic makeup of the country is shifting away from them. They sense that the nation has gone astray: marriage is in crisis; the work ethic is eroding; living standards are in danger; the elites have failed; the news media sends out messages that make it harder to raise decent kids. They face greater challenges, and they’re on their own.

The Republicans harvest their votes but have done a poor job responding to their needs. The leading lights of the party tend to be former College Republicans who have a more individualistic and even Randian worldview than most members of the working class. Most Republican presidential candidates, from George H.W. Bush to John McCain to Mitt Romney, emerge from an entirely different set of experiences.

Occasionally you get a candidate, like Tim Pawlenty, who grew up working class. But he gets sucked up by the consultants, the donors and the professional party members and he ends up sounding like every other Republican. Other times a candidate will emerge who taps into a working-class vibe — Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin. But, so far, these have been flawed candidates who get buried under an avalanche of negative ads and brutal coverage.

This year, Romney is trying to establish some emotional bond with the working class by waging a hyperpatriotic campaign: I may be the son of a millionaire with a religion that makes you uncomfortable, but I love this country just like you. The strategy appears to be only a partial success.

Enter Rick Santorum.

Santorum is the grandson of a coal miner and the son of an Italian immigrant. For years, he represented the steel towns of western Pennsylvania. He has spent the last year scorned by the news media — working relentlessly, riding around in a pickup truck to more than 370 towns. He tells that story of hard work and elite disrespect with great fervor at his meetings.

His worldview is not individualistic. His book, “It Takes a Family,” was infused with the conservative wing of Catholic social teaching. It was a broadside against Barry Goldwater-style conservatism in favor of one that emphasized family and social solidarity. While in Congress, he was a leader in nearly every serious piece of antipoverty legislation. On the stump, he cries, “The left has a religion, too. It’s just not based on the Bible. It’s based on the religion of self.”

Santorum does not have a secular worldview. This is not just a matter of going to church and home-schooling his children. When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, he and his wife, a neonatal nurse, spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home — praying over it and welcoming it, with their other kids, into the family. This story tends to be deeply creepy to many secular people but inspiring to many of the more devout.

He is not a representative of the corporate or financial wing of the party. Santorum certainly wants to reduce government spending (faster even than Representative Paul Ryan). He certainly wants tax reform. But he goes out of his way in his speeches to pick fights with the “supply-siders.” He scorns the Wall Street bailouts. His economic arguments are couched as values arguments: If you want to enhance long-term competitiveness, you need to strengthen families. If companies want productive workers, they need to be embedded in wholesome communities.

It’s hard to know how his campaign will fare after a late surge that he is experiencing in Iowa. These days, he is a happy and effective campaigner, but, in the past, there has been a dourness and rigidity to him. He’s been consumed by resentment over unfair media coverage. As his ally in the AIDS fight, Bono, once told a reporter, Santorum seems to have a Tourette’s syndrome that causes him to say the most unpopular thing imaginable.

But I suspect he will do better post-Iowa than most people think — before being buried under a wave of money and negative ads. And I do believe that he represents sensibility and a viewpoint that is being suppressed by the political system. Perhaps, in less rigid and ideological form, this working-class experience will someday find a champion.

If you took a working-class candidate from the right, like Santorum, and a working-class candidate from the left, like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and you found a few islands of common ground, you could win this election by a landslide. The country doesn’t want an election that is Harvard Law versus Harvard Law.