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A Sputnik Moment, Part IV

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The fourth and final in a series of dispatches from China

The Olympics are coming to China in almost two years exactly. I wrote in my upcoming book, A Country That Works, that for the United States, the event will be a "Sputnik moment." When the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite into orbit at the height of the Cold War in 1957, it took us by surprise. And then it galvanized our nation into action to "compete" with the Russians in the space race, leading to exciting American innovations in science and technology.

The Olympics may be that moment for this century.

I just left Shanghai, the financial center of China. The buildings, I believe, have the most outstanding architecture in the world. Condos are everywhere and their prices are beginning to approach those of the U.S. in the central business district. The amount of square footage developed last year alone was equal to all the commercial office space in Manhattan.

The Maglev, a magnetic levitation train, runs in from the airport at the world's fastest speed. The Pudong Shanghai airport itself has glass all around its Lego-like look, with white rods connected to black arching cables under a blue ribbed roof -- the most futuristic construction I have ever seen.

So the "Sputnik moment" happens when the curtain is peeled back, and non-stop coverage of the Olympics highlights the China of today.

I think America will be shocked again.

Hopefully, we will respond as a country as we did after Sputnik. America should understand that just like in the Olympics, we need to build a "Team USA" ready to win the globalization game. Business, labor and government all have a part, and we need to throw out the old playbook and forge a bold new partnership.

Take health care. Skyrocketing health care costs are the most pressing economic threat to the middle class and our nation's prosperity. America's businesses simply cannot compete in the global economy with the employer-based health care system collapsing before our very eyes.

But American political leaders are still stuck in the 20th century, and that's why innovative CEOs should be speaking out - shouting in fact. Together, labor and business need to press both parties for future-oriented policies, starting with a new, uniquely American 21st century health care system in which everybody pays their fair share and everyone is covered.

The world has changed, so we need to change the rules. We cannot drive into the future looking into the rear-view mirror. America needs a plan!