Michael Mandelbaum posed the question in the title of this post to a capacity crowd at last week's SAS Government Leadership Summit. Author of That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Mandelbaum gave the opening keynote address.
Mandelbaum posited that since the dawn of the Cold War, America has served a uniquely stabilizing and constructive role economically and that a strong and effective America benefits all. That role is in peril, and the four future-defining challenges we face are:
- Globalization – The world’s labor force has doubled over the past 20 years, and with the ability to outsource, companies have no problem filling many jobs outside the US.
- Information technology revolution – In his words, “Entire classifications of jobs have been destroyed and outsourced to the past.”
- Deficits and debt – Federal debt is a big issue, of course, but especially state/municipal debt in the form of retiree pensions.
- Reliance on fossil fuels – It has tremendous effects on the economy, environment and world politics.
A key to America becoming strong and stable is economic growth. The part of his address I found most compelling was the five-part formula for public-private partnerships that support growth, and have since the US was founded. I found myself thinking about the ways analytics and analytics expertise could support the formula. The five categories are Mandelbaum’s, but I’ve combined my perspectives and thoughts with his in the explanations.
- Education – Historically, America has educated its population up to the latest advances in technology. We are failing to do so, as indicated by the lack of STEM graduates and the performance of K-12 students on standardized math and science tests. Analytics can be used to predict student’s likelihood of success in 8th grade Algebra, a gateway course to STEM careers.
- Infrastructure – A good infrastructure is the framework for economic activity. We are $2.2 trillion in arrears when it comes to updating our infrastructure. Analytics can be used for predictive asset maintenance of bridges and highways, and to streamline the planning process and reduce the cost new roads.
- Research & Development – Data is this century’s most valuable resource. Analytics (and high-performance analytics) must be a high priority of federal R&D investment.
- Immigration – Historically, America has attracted and retained educated risk-takers. Now, too often someone earns an advanced degree only to be sent back to their home country. Many of those people possess analytics expertise, which is in high demand in this country.
- Regulation – We need a regulatory environment that is strong enough to protect the public, but loose enough to allow for innovation and growth. For analytics, it is important that value is derived from data, but that data is used in a responsible manner, always with an eye towards privacy concerns.
He acknowledged the problems with have with extreme bipartisanship and the strong influence of money on politics. However, he left us on a positive note. He said, “The key to meeting the challenges lies in America’s past. If we can rediscover the spirit that used to be us, we can be us again.”