Invest in the American People – it will pay Large Dividends

Feb 3, 2021 by

There is much talk about China’s rise and the need for a U.S. strategy to assure it does not come at America’s and the West’s demise. This conversation is timely as we transition from one U.S. President to another. Our election process allows for the potential of a natural reset of our national policy direction. 

Under President Xi, China seems content to split the globalization nut.  China is intent on forging its own path as James Crabtree outlines in his recent analysis, “China expects the U.S. and its allies to act ever more aggressively to deny China the technology it needs … Xi has quietly unveiled an economic strategy fit for a new Cold War.”

Sadly, to date, most of the US rhetoric and saber-rattling has focused on holding China back rather than propelling America forward.

To be clear, China is challenging America on many fronts – from who controls the South China Sea to the future of technology’s 5G. Given the wealth and power China has amassed, much with our assistance, this defensive strategy is like building a chain link fence to hold back a tsunami. In today’s world, wealth brings power along with the potential to change the world.

In my lifetime, I have witnessed the turnaround of Chinese fortune– remarkable as it is universally acknowledged. As a child of the 60s’, I clearly recall my mother imploring me to eat my vegetables, that “children are starving in China”. Today, China may be eating our lunch – challenging us as king of the hill on so many levels.

Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who followed Mao, catapulted China into global superpower status economically, militarily, and politically, putting into play another Chinese revolution – regaining the wealth and power it once had, lost to the West so many centuries before.

Investments that Pay Off 

Budgets are statements of priorities – transparent for the all the world to see where China is headed as it invests the globalization gains it has accumulated. China uses its re-gained wealth to invest in eliminating poverty, building the country’s infrastructure (air and seaports, rail, roads, bridges), education, and technology, especially 5G bandwidth. Today, artificial intelligence and big data support its domestic industries as well as its military and internal domestic security. 

Yet, as the football and boxing coaches of my youth helped me understand, I have minimal control over what my opponent does. My focus, if I wished to be victorious, must be on what I do. The same holds true in America today. 

Invest in The American People

If we wish to maintain America’s leadership, we need to begin re-investing in the American people. The U.S., many would argue, has squandered its riches by spilling Americans’ blood attempting to be the super cop to the world with little to show for it. America will likely have to spend years building back the loyalty of our allies after the Trump affront to them these past four years. President Trump has turned upside down America’s usual alliance of allies and adversaries, embracing adversaries like Russia and North Korea while pushing away our closest allies such as  Australia, France, Canada and Germany. His tendency is to pick fights with countries the United States relies on to uphold freedoms around the world and cozy up to dictators. 

With only 30 days left in office, and mere hours after the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said that investigations indicate Russia was behind the vast cybersecurity breach against the U.S., President Trump suggested it may have been China, downplaying the severity of the attack, undercutting intelligence reporting.

We clearly need to keep an eye on what unfriendly nations may be doing that impact our national interests. While doing so, it is equally critical that we begin a concerted effort to restore America through targeted investments.

President Biden has promised to “build back America better”.  

Here is what I would like to see as American offensive strategy, to assure we are able to remain the world leader as the 21st century unfolds:

• Stop the failed policy of going it alone when it comes to confronting China.  We must find constructive ways to engage our allies in forming a coalition that minimizes China playing one trading partner against another. Build bridges, stop digging moats.

• Stop whining about China and get focused on what we need to do at home to a nation that has stood tall at home and abroad.

• Re-engage with international organizations (WTOWHO) that set the guideposts and international rules of engagement

• Invest in American education from the cradle to the grave. 

• Partner with the private sector in re-skilling our workforce.• Create lifelong learning and re-skilling funds to keep our workforce on the cutting edge.• Provide public funding for two years of additional education/skill training past high school.• Invest in research and development; maintain our strategic advantage in change and innovation.• Stop the assault on immigrants. Instead of vilifying immigrants, let’s strive to make America the brain bank of the world. Immigration has always been an American strength, providing a new flow of ideas that enriches America – we are well past the time where we should be creating an easier path for immigrants’ allowing them to further contribute to our country. • Rebuild American infrastructure. Case in point: Michigan’s crumbling roads – a                                                            metaphor for the lack of investment in basic infrastructure. Investing in roads, air/seaports, water and sewers, schools, hospitals and broadband pays dividends all.

•    Make America clean: Invest in clean energy. • Student loan forgiveness. If not fully forgiving these loans at a minimum, cancel up to $50,000 in federal student debt for individual borrowers. Americans owe $1.7 trillion in student loan debt and it is an anchor for American youth to begin their lives.• Make America connected. We should set a goal to assure that Internet connectivity and broadband is ubiquitous. WHEREVER we go in America. • Embrace all Americans. Find ways to bring the Americans left behind and left out by systemic racism, disability, poor education, and generational poverty that impedes reaching the American dream. • Create a National requirement for one or two years of community service, either military or non-military, following high school. Given the division across the country.  It is a way of creating a national sense of purpose forging a shared vision and common agenda of solidarity.• Move away from the tariffs now being paid for by the American consumer, farmer, and manufacturers.• Engage. Communicate. Co-ordinate and collaborate with China on issues that are in our respective national interests. For starters, let’s begin with working together to help restart the global economy, stopping and preventing pandemics, controlling nuclear proliferation, and addressing climate change.

Without focused and strategic investment, the U.S. is at risk of losing in the game of global leadership – and facing a future where America does not occupy a dominant position. That is simply unacceptable.  America controls its own destiny. We must make 2021 the year to begin the American investment in ourselves. 

America must start the hard work of investing in ourselves and soar. The alternative is continuing to disinvest in the American people and watch our leadership slip away.

Tom Watkins has had a lifelong interest in China sparked by a great fourth grade teacher. For over four decades he had been an outspoken advocate to build economic, educational and cultural ties between the US and China. He has served in leadership roles in the private and government sector.  Wechat tdwatkins88 Email

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1 Comment

  1. Jill

    Excellent article and all valid! We need to build America back, help Americans to gain their own lives back and America is built on immigration- do not take the interwoven fabric out of America! Great article Tom!

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