Private Sector Bandaids, and Making the US Competitive Again

English: Inside a Harvard Business School class

On Monday night I attended a Harvard Business School “Paths Forward” event tied to the March issue of Harvard Business Review, which consists of a wide range of research on How to Increase U.S. Competitiveness. I also contributed a blog post to the HBS Competitiveness website on some initiatives I’m working on personally with ff Venture Capital and HBS Angels related to increasing competitiveness.

The program consisted of some HBS faculty discussing their research, and some private sector leaders discussing their own initiatives to help the economy.  It was inspiring to hear of some laudable efforts, e.g., the launch of P-Tech, the result of a partnership between CUNY and IBM.  The speakers were all thoughtful and insightful.

At the same time, I thought that the event was a bit depressing.  Most of the private-sector initiatives were effectively efforts to route around our broken policy-making system.  They’re bandaids, not cures.  P-Tech is an effort to rethink education with help from IBM, and that’s wonderful.  However, why can’t our public education leaders do this on their own?  Why is there only one P-Tech instead of hundreds?  Why wasn’t an initiative like this launched 20 years ago?  The answer is that our public education system is broken.

When Shell and some other major oil companies go into emerging markets, I understand that they often become highly involved in the local community: helping build schools, build housing, etc.  They do this to build goodwill and also no doubt because the existing infrastructure is so bad.
Is gridlock so bad in the US that we are functionally like an emerging market?  Are our policy-makers so unequipped to implement rational policy?  My sad conclusion is in fact that we are, and that creates more pressure on private sector leaders to take action.

David Moss has an article in the special HBR issue on “Fixing What’s Wrong with U.S. Politics“, although his article is mostly diagnosis instead of prescription.  I hope that the Kennedy School is studying how to bring rational governance back into effect. Policy is their expertise, not HBS’s.  Personally, I’m practicing the boycott that I’ve heard some advocate: I’m not giving money to any politicians who I don’t see systematically working to reduce deficits, in line with the recommendations of the nonpartisan Committee for Economic Development (CED).

If the Kennedy School is not studying this issue, then “In the place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.”  Experts in management, like HBS faculty, need to apply their expertise to the management of our amazing but poorly-run country.

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