In the New York Times, respected columnist Thomas Friedman writes about Newsweek’s ranking of the world’s best countries. Finland came out on top. And, no doubt to the surprise of many Americans, the U.S. came in at number 11! Not even in the top 10.
Friedman points to a Washington Post column by Robert Samuelson, who examines one playing field on which Americans are losing: education. We’ve spent huge amounts of money on schools. But what have we got to show for it? Lousy test scores. But, Samuelson writes, maybe the cause is not bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions. Maybe the real cause of school failure is: “Shrunken student motivation.” After all, he notes, students are the ones who have to do the work, and “if they’re not motivated, even capable teachers may fail.”
The cause of the apathy? It’s what Friedman calls a “values breakdown.” Think back to the “Greatest Generation.” What made them great? First, Friedman says, the problems they faced “were huge, merciless and inescapable: the Depression, Nazism, and Soviet Communism.” Second, the leaders of that day “were not afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice.” Third, the Greatest Generation was willing to sacrifice and “pull together, for the good of the country.” They became global leaders because they were willing to do hard things.
By contrast, leaders of the Boomer generation would never dream of asking us to sacrifice, Friedman writes; solutions to any problem must be painless. We want homes without having to spend years saving up for them; we’d rather assign blame for our problems than assume responsibility.
Meanwhile, he concludes, countries like China and India are catching up—not only because they enjoy free markets, education, and technology, but also because these Hindus and Confucianists, Friedman notes, have grabbed onto something we’ve left behind, the Protestant work ethic: “a willingness to postpone gratification, invest for the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations.” Now this is not a Christian moralist speaking, this is an esteemed secular Jewish columnist.
This is why I have said over and over again our economic collapse in 2008 was the result of moral and ethical failures, much more than the economy. And it’s why Professor Robby George, Brit Hume, and I have teamed up to produce a six-part series on ethics, conducted at a classroom at Princeton. I’ve seen the final edits. This series can really change how this country thinks. It’s going to be released later this fall, but you can see a trailer of it at www.ColsonCenter.org right now.
And don’t let anybody tell you we can’t change the world. Just last week, I told about the Republican leadership wanting to publish its election agenda without even mentioning the sanctity of life and traditional marriage. They wanted to focus purely on economic issues. But as Friedman’s article points out, we can’t separate morality, ethics, and economics! And many of you responded, jamming the leadership’s email servers. And, now it looks like the Republicans in tomorrow’s release will indeed include these critical moral issues.
And please, come today to my “Two-Minute Warning” at www.ColsonCenter.org, and I’ll tell you about another sign of progress: a remarkable rally I attended on behalf of human life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom.
It will give you hope. With God, after all, all things are possible. Even changing our apathetic, “we’re number 11!” culture.