The United States could become an emerging nation again, Jeb Bush told a full house at the annual Weatherspoon Lecture at UNC Kenan-Flagler.
“Of all the developed countries in the world, the United States is perhaps the only one that could grow as it once did,” said Bush, the former governor of Florida. “Our country has the potential to be an emerging nation again – not a country in decline, not a mature, developed country, but a country that is full of hope and aspiration for everybody.”
Bush outlined ways in which he believes citizens can gain regain confidence in America and the country can grow economically in his speech “America’s Promise in Uncertain Times” on Jan. 27.
A third of American families had a net worth of zero or negative in 2010, Bush said. The percentage of people who own homes is lower than it was in 1980, and the workforce participation rate is lower. And whether you’re born poor or rich today in America, you’re more likely to stay that way than at any other time in American history, he said.
Bush discussed three areas in which he believes America can promote more economic growth.
- Reform immigration: He said America should embrace immigration as a catalytic converter for growth, creating a modernized immigration system that narrows family petitions in exchange for more open borders for people who want to come in for economic reasons. “We train people; we let them go to our schools, then we kick them out of our country,” Bush said. “They immediately become competitors in other countries.”
- Reform K-12 education: Bush said the standards should be higher so there aren’t learning gaps, which stunt student growth, and remediation to make up these gaps throughout middle and high school. He said it’s important to focus on early literacy and cited examples from his time as governor in Florida when, through his education policies, the illiteracy rate was cut in half.
- Embrace national resources: Bush endorsed hydraulic fracking as a way for America to be competitive in the natural gas market and increase employment by creating high-wage jobs. “There should be incentives for conservation,” Bush said. “In our homes, in our cars, in our businesses, we should find creative ways to deal with conservation because it’s the lowest cost investment yielding significant results.”
An audience member asked Bush what three qualities he would look for in a U.S. presidential candidate. Bush answered that he would look someone who is joyful and optimistic about America and its future; someone who measures success by accomplishments and not just t making a point; and someone who has a set of guiding principles for foreign policy.
Bush praised UNC Kenan-Flagler for its focus on leadership development. “It's smart for a business school to be focused on leadership,” he said. “All schools should be.”
His talk attracted a full house of leaders, including former UNC Kenan-Flagler deans Jim Dean (now UNC executive vice chancellor and provost), Steve Jones (UNC ‘74), Paul Fulton (BSBA ‘57) and Jack Evans (also three-time interim dean), along with new dean Doug Shackelford (UNC ’80).
Click here to view Bush’s Weatherspoon Lecture.