The good news from Washington is that plans to extend the debt-ceiling farce into 2014 are moving forward on a bipartisan basis. The chances that the U.S. government may soon resume its functions temporarily and that there’ll be no default on U.S. sovereign debt for as much as several months appear to have improved.
Talk about defining success down. It’s almost enough to make you believe in American Decline. Granted, despite everything, the United States is still having a better recovery than Europe, so things could be worse. The trouble is, if the country’s political class keeps this up, they will be.
Nobody denies that government by recurring fiscal crisis puts the productive parts of the U.S. economy under stress and is damaging in itself. But it’s also a distraction from other issues that simply can’t wait. While politicians in Washington have their hands full failing to keep the government running and calling the nation’s creditworthiness into question, everything else is allowed to slide. In some cases, this is a grave error.
One wonders how many U.S. political leaders have even bothered to look at an authoritative new survey that says the U.S. is failing — and failing abjectly — in an area of policy that is crucial for prosperity. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has just published the first results from an exhaustive international survey of skills. It’s the most authoritative project of its kind — a huge undertaking, comparing adults’ proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem- solving across the organization’s member countries.
In effect, the survey measures the quality of human capital, one of the crucial drivers of long-term economic success.
The U.S. performance in these rankings isn’t just poor, it’s pitiful.