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Thriving in the Global Economy: What China and the U.S. Must Do

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

I am not ready to cede the 21st century to China. No question, China has led an impressive effort to end illiteracy, greatly increasing its number of high school grads and new universities. But rigor and competence, without freedom, will take the country only so far. It is hard to produce a culture of innovation in a country that censors Google—which for me is a proxy for restricting people's ability to imagine and try anything they want. China will have to find a way to loosen up, without losing control, if it wants to be truly innovative. But while China can't thrive without changing, neither can we. In a global economy, our workers will get paid a premium only if they or their firms offer a uniquely innovative product or service, which demands a skilled and creative labor force, one that is constantly able to keep learning. We can't go on lagging behind other major economies in every math/science/reading test. Freedom, without rigor and competence, will only take us so far.

Thomas L. Friedman