On November 28th, ASP held an event launching its new report entitled: “American Competitiveness Report-An Issue of National Security”. The event featured Lieutenant General John Castellaw, USMC (Ret.); former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman; ASP Board Member and CEO of Chopper Trading, Raj Fernando; and August Cole, ASP Adjunct Fellow and former Wall Street Journal reporter.
At the event, Raj Fernando gave a great speech focusing upon pushing America to be as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th through proper investments in America’s infrastructure, educational system, and immigration system.
Below is the script for Raj’s speech:
Speech on American Competitiveness
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. Thank you Governor Whitman and thank you American Security Project. When I listen to discussions on the future of the US economy I’m always fascinated to hear people talk about the markets. Leaders around the world seem paralyzed by fear of “the markets”. In Europe, EU leaders failed to act to reduce Greek debt and failed to create growth because of a fear of how the market would react. Here, people worry that the quantitative easing and stimulus spending will drive up the cost of US debt and collapse our economy. In the 1990s, President Clinton’s political adviser James Carville said at the time that “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”
Well, I am a bond trader. I’ve worked in the financial markets my whole adult life. I run a trading company in Chicago– Chopper Trading—that trades in vast quantities of financial products on a daily basis. The markets aren’t an abstract voice to me. And let me tell you something, at least when it comes to this trader, the conventional wisdom is dead wrong. Yes, our debt is a long term concern. But, what really worries me is our failure as a country to invest in our future to make ourselves more competitive. I believe in the American economy; not because I think everything is perfect right now, but because we have the ability to fix our problems. The future is in our own hands.
We can learn a lot from history. After World War II, the United States helped create an open international economy to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s. President Truman and Secretary Marshall helped create the IMF and World Bank and rebuilt Europe and Japan. Since then, this American led global economy has contributed immensely to peace and prosperity in the world. I want to talk with you this morning about three things we need to do as a country to ensure that the United States is as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. First, invest in infrastructure. Second, invest in education. Third, reform our immigration system
Investing In Infrastructure
At times of economic uncertainty, it is often bold government action that is needed to protect the national economy. I am confident that the actions the Fed and the government have taken over the last several years, starting with President Bush and Secretary Paulson’s Tarp, have not only prevented our country from going into another great depression but have allowed us a chance to bounce back from this great recession much more rapidly than we otherwise would have been able. We need to take advantage of this period of incredibly low interest rates to invest in our infrastructure and other nation building opportunities. This will help us grow our way out of our economic problems while at the same time, reduce the deficit and plant the seeds for future sustainable growth.
In my hometown of Chicago, our mayor has stated that the city’s water pipes are 90 years old. We know we have to rebuild them. Why wouldn’t we do it now with record low interest rates and high unemployment? They HAVE TO be replaced at some point. Doing this would create jobs and get our economy moving again.
Both parties agree that the public sector does not spend money as efficiently as the private sector. Yet, government spending, along with private sector investment, is vital for providing this country with the foundation it needs to have a vibrant and growing economy. We know this from the defense industry. We don’t rely on the private sector alone for advanced national security research. DARPA, a government agency created in response to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch, plays a major role in maintaining our technological edge. They can invest for the long term without needing an immediate return on their investment. It’s been so successful that not even the most strident free market politician would abolish DARPA. The same lesson should apply to national infrastructure. Massive long term infrastructure projects often need government involvement.
We cannot burden ourselves with oppressive austerity measures or we will suffer the same fate as Europe. We need to find a bipartisan approach that can help us invest in infrastructure projects like the Chicago water pipes. We need to work together in order to build better and more efficient intercity transportation, high speed rail, and smart grids. Why do our Asian and European friends have such better public transportation than we do? Have any of you been to LaGuardia or JFK lately? The choice is ours.
How much did the impact of hurricane Sandy cost our country? How much would it have cost to build a modern day sea wall? Today, we would not just be building and creating jobs but we would be paying pennies on the dollar to do it. By some estimates, the value of spending 1$ on preparedness measures can be worth 15$ in relief and reconstruction after a disaster. Adopting these proactive projects now makes long-term economic sense, and public-private partnerships can provide the financing and the will to make them happen. A National Infrastructure Bank that could marshal private sector funding to help upgrade infrastructure would go a long way to make sure these valuable projects can get the support and the attention that they need. We know we have to eventually rebuild and reinvest. But we must get both parties to work together. Our future economic success depends on it.
Invest In Education
But securing our economic future goes beyond building the bridges and roads that make up our infrastructure. We must invest in the human capital that makes our economy so dynamic. For many reasons, this country attracts the best and brightest students from around the world. Our best universities have huge numbers of foreign students and a vast percentage of these students graduate at the top of their class. Our own students are often behind. What does this tell us? It tells us what we already know- that our k-12 system needs to drastically improve. There are far too many examples of bright, young American students who are unable to fulfill their potential because they are being let down by an imperfect and overwhelmed school system. We must also greatly improve the standards we expect in math and science so that our students can compete in a global marketplace. Our nation ranks 27th among developed countries in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering, and we face a projected shortfall of roughly 230k qualified advanced-degree science, technology, engineering and math jobs. We must bring our own students up to speed and investment in education is imperative.
We must also reform our immigration system. If we are going to educate the brightest foreign students to be the most successful in their field, we want to make sure they stay in this country to apply their skills. These are the job creators. These are the innovators. More than 40% of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Both parties agree that we should staple an h1b visa or a green card to these students’ diplomas, but we don’t. Tens of thousands of these students cannot get sponsorship and end up leaving our country to compete against us after WE have trained them. Many times, my own company has been forced to turn down the most promising candidates for job positions based solely on their immigration status. Immigrants to America are faced with navigating a complicated bureaucratic process that is slow and ineffective. We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we turn away the world’s brightest. What would have happened if Sergey Brin moved to Canada? One of the biggest companies in the world would not be housed on US soil. I understand immigration is a sensitive issue but the fact that we are more open than other nations is a tremendous asset and should give us an enormous advantage if we don’t squander it.
We need to understand that our success in the 21st century will depend in part on the decisions we take on these three issues—infrastructure, education, and immigration. Militarily, the United States is the world’s undisputed superpower, with no other nation being powerful enough to even be considered second place. But not all of the gravest threats come from foreign armies. History tells us that many past superpowers of the world: the Roman Empire, and more recently, the Soviet Union, were not defeated by external threats but by their own internal economic failings.
America’s great strength is its ability to revitalize itself time and time again. There is nothing about today’s challenges that are inherently worse than those faced by previous generations of Americans. We are lucky that we know what needs to be done. If we can tackle these problems with a spirit of bipartisanship, there’s nothing that will prevent America’s future from being even more glorious than its past.
For Raj’s ASP profile click here.
To check out Raj’s blog click here.
For an overview of the event click here.