10/31/2010 12:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Restoring the American Dream

Have bickering political ads ruined your morning? The just say 'spend' Democrats attack the just say 'no' Tea Party. While crisscrossing the country, I haven't spotted a race where there is a thoughtful dialog about a growth agenda--innovation, education, and infrastructure.

Tom Friedman quotes Nyan Chanda, "the U.S. seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned. The country's worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity."

Last month I met with Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India and godfather of Indian angel and venture investing. He's working with Sam Pitroda on an Innovation Council and is planning a $1b innovation fund. In contrast to the U.S. politica food-fight, India's leadership is laying the groundwork for the innovation economy--they are smart, focused, and optimistic.

It looks, Srivastava told Freidman, as if "what is happening in America is a loss of self-confidence. We don't want America to lose self-confidence. Who else is there to take over America's moral leadership? American's leadership was never because you had more arms. It was because of ideas, imagination, and meritocracy."

The mood has soured in America with the Great Recession. We are mad at each other but mostly arguing about the wrong stuff. Fareed Zakaria's article and TV show this week focused on restoring the American Dream--they are must read/watch. Getting to root causes during an interview with Lou Gerstner, Zakaria noted that, "Globalization and technology acted like a one, two punch. The knockout was the recession."

To restore the American Dream, Fareed makes the case for more government spending on R&D--about twice as much--and less on entitlement programs. He and Google's Eric Schmidt pointed out that most advances--computers, semiconductors, the Internet, and GPS--are a product of government investment.

Fareed also pointed to the importance of education and job retraining. Other than Superman and NBC's Education Nation we haven't heard much during this election cycle about education, but right in front of us is the potential for a learning revolution--the historic pivot from books to digital content, from bubble sheet tests to instant feedback, from birthdays to competency-based progress, and from back-loaded employment to diverse performance-based learning professions.

Arne Duncan reiterated at a Virginia education summit this week, "Education is economic development." We'll need to learn our way out of the doldrums. But it won't be high school and college as you knew them--it will be online, it will be customized, it will be anytime, anywhere learning. And it won't cost more--it will actually save families and states money.

There's a catch--we need to reduce policy barriers to education innovation. With 60 days notice, it would be logistically possible to make available to every student in America quality online math and science courses. With 12 months notice, it would be possible to construct a next generation engaging and personalized offering. However, gridlocked federal, state, and local policies, contracts, and budgets make it hard to do anything new. If we don't address America's inability to innovate in the delivery of public services, it is certain that our children will be the first generation to be less well off than their parents.

Restoring the American Dream starts by putting children first and making decisions that make sense for their future. If we invest in infrastructure, curb run away spending, and open our public services to innovation they will have a chance to embrace a new version of the America Dream.