Healthy, Educated & Productive
Starting with the overarching objective of a healthy, educated, and productive population that is competitive in the global marketplace, what should be done? Let’s work through this piece by piece.
Start with healthy. We are facing an epidemic of chronic disease, driven in part by an epidemic of obesity. The eventual financial costs of diabetes and all its complications, e.g., heart disease, will be enormous. The human costs in terms of lost quality of life will also be daunting.
The most important thing in stemming this epidemic is quite straightforward, at least on the surface. People have to consume fewer calories and/or burn more calories via activity. Better quality food and smaller portion sizes would help on the consumption side of things. More physical education in schools, as well as by employers, would help the burning of calories.
One of the problems, however, it that junk food, much of which is corn based, is subsidized by the government via farm price supports. So we have created a food ecosystem where the government invests in the creation of foods that people should not be eating. However, for poorer people, this food is the best deal in terms of calories per dollar, so they buy it. We need the government to subsidize broccoli and carrots, not corn.
Next, let’s consider education. We need literacy and numeracy skills to be increasing, not decreasing. We need people to understand and be competent with technologies and computers. The key is making K-12 education motivating and even fun. Problem based learning could help tremendously. Perhaps we should eliminate closed-book exams and instead focus on problems and cases that require literacy and numeracy. A nation of problem solvers will be much more competitive than a nation of memorizers.
Finally, let’s address productivity. In general, the private sector invests in employees’ productivity via training, education, and technology. The more output per hour or dollar, the more people are paid. (Unless, of course, healthcare costs are consuming these gains.) We need tax policies that encourage employers to make these investments in our healthy and educated problem solvers who can help companies innovate and compete.
So, for health, we need resources focused on prevention and wellness, as well as chronic disease management to deter disease progression. We need resources for education focused on creating a nation of literate, numerate problem solvers. And, we need tax policies that motivate employers to invest in their productivity.