A trademark Brooks turnaround in today's column: "...big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t.
I.Q. matters, but Heckman points to equally important traits that start and then build from those early years: motivation levels, emotional stability, self-control and sociability. He uses common sense to intuit what these traits are, but on this subject economists have a lot to learn from developmental psychologists.
I point to these two research projects because the skills slowdown is the biggest issue facing the country. Rising gas prices are bound to dominate the election because voters are slapped in the face with them every time they visit the pump. But this slow-moving problem, more than any other, will shape the destiny of the nation."
Isn't investing in child development a tradtionally democratic issue? Brooks says it himself:
"...both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see they flow naturally and persuasively from this research. (It probably helps that Obama and Heckman are nearly neighbors in Chicago). McCain’s policies seem largely oblivious to these findings. There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies."
Maybe Brooks is suggesting that cultural issues ("family values") are at the crux of this problem, and he's urging Republicans to embrace the subject. But the only person talking about this issue is Obama. Brooks flummoxes me by his willingness to talk about these issues in a reflective, non-partisan way -- in stark contrast to his ad hominems from last week. (For an example of partisan hackery, check Kristol from yesterday, begging people to be afraid of an Obama administration.)
I agree that we need to invest in our children from birth on. I knew I could count on Brooks to whipsaw me around again. I guess that's a mark of a good columnist -- they keep you guessing.