Monday, June 13, 2011

Bringing U.S. Manufacturing Back; Part 1 of 5, Who is Professor Matthew Lieber?

Many believe bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. will be one of the major contributions to stabilizing the American middle class and moving out of a recession economy. It’s a complicated issue.

The U.S. is immersed in a 21st century global economy with global neighbors and competitors as well as U.S. foreign policy, immigration policy, and free trade agreements that combine together to create a complex success reality for reviving U.S. manufacturing.

U.S. students lagging behind in competitive math and science education scores along with the overall effectiveness of universities realistically preparing students for work and careers compared to international counterparts are being questioned and examined.

Unstable governments, and even internal violence, enters into the international world economy concerns of this effect on developing business and manufacturing environments. U.S. and international investment policy, capital and profit tax policy, and international politics overall also add to the mix. Private sector versus public sector solution is also being pitted against each other in various ways.

Add to all of this the competing national internal identity fueled by competing political philosophies currently in the U.S., and it may take a rocket scientist to figure it all out. Or, maybe someone with a PhD with a field of research in global politics actively engaged with economic policy, government, and migration issues at local, regional-transnational and international levels has knowledge worth exploring.

A Visiting Assistant Professor & Research Associate at Beloit College, Matthew A. Lieber received his PhD in 2010 from Brown University. He is presently publishing his research on diaspora voting politics, pursuing a tenure-track and/or research appointment, and advancing a project on foreign investment rules and industrial transformation in the Midwest.

Dr. Lieber aims to stimulate “a more involved engagement for (his) students,” and his teaching experience has convinced him of “the value of tying the social sciences curriculum to biographies and active practitioners.”

Do schools, even higher education, effectively prepare students for the life changes that will come after graduation and into adulthood? Lieber explains, “This question challenges us to think seriously about what expectations we hold of our schools and colleges. My short answer is that too many schools are turning out graduates without the raw tools for success in life – basic literacy and math skills, and a healthy sense of self and purpose in the world. There is no shortage of evidence in the national reading and math test results.”

“This is as much of a failure of parents and communities as it is of the schools. It’s a bit harder to assess the performance of the university system, since we lack agreed-on indicators of critical thinking ability, complex reasoning and problem-solving skills, ethical awareness, and mastery of one’s field of knowledge. Developing that general foundation is the best preparation we can offer our students, immediately and in the long run.”

“They will have to get themselves through the life changes and personal challenges of finding jobs and navigating careers as well as building meaningful relationships and forging positive family ties.”

He continues, “The movement to standardize assessments for higher education now underway is arousing some of the controversy associated with school testing. My own view is that universities should engage this process seriously but carefully. Let’s establish quantification as a potentially useful tool and not as an end goal, and let’s avoid over centralization of procedures that force unity across different fields. In principle, though, more systematic assessments of college learning should be a good thing.”

What is the main delusion students may have about their future while in school that most quickly evolves after graduation? Dr. Lieber offers, “It’s funny the way that it depends on the individual, but there is a polarization. I think university studies in the U.S. seem to push students in two opposite directions. Some have a great deal of faith in one or another ideology, whether liberalism, the United Nations, free markets, or science and technology.”

“A greater and growing number of students are deluded into believing they cannot change the world. They look out at a world of environmental degradation, stolen elections, shallow politics, corporate theft, etc. and conclude the existence of self-interested humans dooms all prospects for cooperation. So there has been a shift from naive liberalism to na├»ve realism – cynicism – that is a reflection of the times.”

He adds, “What all students need though is more experience. Experience will teach them lessons in how we can and do change the world – one day and one person at time, in incremental and imperfect ways – not always satisfying or always good, but change nonetheless.”

What is Dr. Lieber’s best advice for a graduating college class regarding transferring what they have studied into their future success moving into adulthood realities? “First, bask in your success a bit. Relish your achievement for a moment before you move on to the next chapter in your life. Second, try not to take unsuccessful job searches personally, since you have graduated during a recession out of your control.”

He concludes, “If you have to adjust your immediate plans, maintain your goals and map a strategy to get you there. Specifically, speak to people in the field, build up your resume, and network strategically. Manage your debt and plan for graduate school within a few years. Update your goals and strategy regularly as your experience leads to new insights. But also try out a few different things if you desire – now is the time. Five and certainly ten years from now, it will be harder for you to change and do something new.”

Lieber travels a lot for his research. What was his most interesting recent trip? “I went to Mexico in April to visit two universities, where I was invited to present my research and teach a few special classes. Overall I spent a week between Mexico City, which I know well, and Monterrey, a new city for me -- with my entire senses alert to the politics and economic state of that country. I talked with faculty, political advisors, many students, and a lot of taxi drivers and waiters, too.”

He notes, “What impressed me was the odd combination of persistent drug violence and a remarkably lively economy in Mexico. On an earlier visit in 2009, the streets had been practically empty. Today, incomes, profits and insecurity are all up in Mexico, as all of the most recent news has confirmed.”

What led Lieber to his specific areas of research focus? “My research focuses on the politics of migration, and I can give you a broad reason and couple of more precise ones that led me there. Academia is actually a lot like business in the need to be entrepreneurial and strategic in identifying and developing a market niche with one’s specialty.”

He details, “My field has a lot of good research and theories on why and how people vote or on the relationship between investment flows and security cooperation. But how do individual and group migration experiences affect political leadership, national projects, diplomatic relations and conflicts? In a capitalist system that relies on growing labor flows of both masses and elites, this question matters in many ways. But on the politics of migration, we know far, far less, so that we even lack well developed categories of knowledge.”

“Each biography, each country is studied as a singular case and not cumulated. So this is a big area of opportunity, though it has been tricky for me and others to break in because our work upsets existing ways of organizing and thinking about the field. More precisely, I chose to focus on developing country migrant-sending states, to complement the much greater body of work on immigration in wealthier, receiving states like the U.S. and Germany.”

Lieber concludes, “Lastly, Mexico and the Dominican Republic are two of the countries in our region at pivotal historical moments with massive numbers of their people in our country. Considering the fate of their democratization and quest for economic stability- which will inevitably have an impact for the United States-- is their immigration an opportunity and a resource to work with? Or is it a liability and an obstacle to progress of democracy in the region? I find that interesting and worthwhile to bring up. The question certainly is complicated—migration often cuts both ways-- but I don’t think it will be a non-factor.”

Lieber is a participating author in writing of the book “Foreign Aid and Private Sector Development” published by the Watson Institute for International Studies.

In general terms, as we will explore in detail in this series, how does Dr. Lieber’s research most contribute to the valuable and practical knowledge that is needed today by real world firms and policy makers?

Dr. Lieber shares, “My research is part of a broader body of more systematic analysis that can inform a more enlightened regional approach to migration policy on the part of government, business and civic leaders in the U.S. and the neighboring countries – so we can lead our politicians, rather than vice versa.”

“There is a gulf separating academic political science from policy making in the U.S. – which I find unfortunate. Amidst so many major challenges, the country ought to utilize all sources of serious insight, particularly those capable of helping expand and transform the public debates that are now overly narrow or obstructed.”

He advises, “Political scientists are partly to blame since we have offered long-winded answers when government and business actors need situational intelligence rather than grand theories or elaborate models in order to make good decisions quickly. This interview series is a welcome opportunity to make a small step toward bridging that gulf.”

We will explore the thoughts of Professor Matthew Lieber in our 5-Part series. The series will include:
Part 2, Global Neighbors & Competitors
Part 3, U.S. Foreign Policy
Part 4, Competing Internal Identity
Part 5, Success Realities


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