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New York Times Foreign Affairs Columnist Friedman: "We Need a Hybrid Politics"

By Katie Pirolt and Debra DeHaney-Howard
January 30, 2012

In a lengthy, thought provoking address on building a 21st century political system and workforce in the United States, writer and commentator Thomas Friedman told mayors that, "Our problem right now is that we need to do three things that do not correspond to the stated agenda of either of our major parties. We need to cut; we need to tax; we need to invest. We need a hybrid politics."

In his speech given during the January 19 Plenary Session of the 80th Winter Meeting, Friedman stated, "Our political structure is inadequate in dealing with the new global market place." He further explained that, "We need to cut spending, because we have made promises to the next generation that we cannot possibly keep, particularly in healthcare. Second, we need to raise revenue because we cannot just cut and shred our social safety-nets; there is no sustainable capitalism without safety-nets. Lastly, we need to invest in airports, roads, education, and training of our workforce."

Friedman noted that in less than five years, "…we have gone from a connected world to a ‘hyper-connected world.-" He said that as the pace of change in education and workforce standards is so quick, that "average is officially over." He stated that the U.S. needs to "…bring our bottom to our average so much faster. We need to raise our average to the global average so much faster."

Friedman continued, "If the whole world were a single math class, in this hyper-connected world, the whole global curve has risen. Because basically every employer now has access to more cheap automation, cheap software, cheap robotics, cheap labor, and most importantly cheap genius than ever before. In addition, employers not only want people that can do critical thinking and problem solving, but can invent and reinvent their job as their doing it."

Taking questions from the audience of mayors, Fremont Mayor Anu Natarajan commented on the silos built up between the local school districts and the lack of communication with cities, and asked Friedman how mayors might work to improve primary education. Friedman responded by saying, "What ails America today, fundamentally, is that We've lost our ability to act collectively and all the problems we face require collective action." He then highlighted Colorado's education reform as a good example of what we may do to improve our education and put teachers under review in a fair and collaborative way.

Describing other elements to a child's educational success, Friedman stated, "We need better parents to take an active interest everyday. We need better mayors and governors to travel the world and look not to lower the education standards in their districts, but to actually raise them. They need to travel to find out who their kids are competing with. And we need better neighbors that are ready to pay education taxes to support it whether or not they have kids; because you will either pay for the schools or the prisons."

Commenting on the upcoming Presidential election, Friedman told the mayors, "I think the country is so far ahead of our politics and they're dying for someone to be bold in that way, radically responsible, radically visionary, and radically honest." Friedman explained that we need a President to win the upcoming election with the following mandate: "a short-term plan to invest in major infrastructure projects in every one of our cities to upgrade our infrastructure and to invest in post'secondary education. We need to couple that with the Simpson-Bowles plan or its equivalent for long-term spending cuts to get our fiscal house in order. Third, we need a plan that's fair; rich have to pay more, they-ve had a bountiful two decades, but everybody has to pay something. And lastly, we need a plan that's aspirational; it's not just about balancing the budget."

To view the full speech online, visit the webpage