Howard Rich

In his State of the Union address last week, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged that America’s “free enterprise system is what drives innovation.” He also said that if America is to “win the future,” then it must first “win the race to educate our kids.”

Mr. Obama is correct on both points – just as he was correct in acknowledging that “too many schools” in our country are falling behind in this race.

According to the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), America’s reading scores have slipped by four points over the last nine years. Our fifteen-year-old students now trail their counterparts in Shanghai by 56 points, with even larger gaps existing in science (73 points) and mathematics (113 points) – the subjects which form the basis of our nation’s innovative capacity.

This slippage – which Mr. Obama is hoping to mitigate with increased government funding – will only widen the “innovation gap” that exists between 21st Century America and the rest of the industrialized world.

According to a 2009 report published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, America ranked sixth among the world’s top 40 industrialized nations in overall “innovative competitiveness.” However, our nation ranked dead last among these countries with respect to its “rate of change in innovation capacity.” “Do the math,” as the expression goes.

As with our government’s ongoing fiscal recklessness, this “innovation stagnation” threatens the very survival of our Republic. Yet as America’s competitive position has steadily deteriorated, our political leaders have continued to ignore free market solutions. Instead, they have chosen to saddle future generations with record debt – while simultaneously impeding their ability to pay all those borrowed trillions back.

Now the role that government plays in every aspect of our economy – as well as the role government plays in preparing future generations of Americans to compete in that economy – must be fundamentally reexamined. “The question is whether all of us – as citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed,” Mr. Obama said in his address.

That is the question. Yet in imploring us to meet this challenge, Mr. Obama is once again demonstrating the hollowness of his rhetoric.

For example, if Mr. Obama truly believes that free enterprise “drives innovation” in our economy, then why has he dramatically expanded government control over our financial markets? Or pushed a government takeover of the health care industry? Or used multi-billion dollar bailouts to speculatively pick winners and losers in the marketplace?

Howard Rich

Howard Rich is the Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

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