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Former House Speaker Paul Ryan Reveals How to ‘Win the Race With China’

America may be losing the tech war to China, but it’s equipped to excel and compete globally in education so the country’s workforce gains a skillset ready to fight for the next generation of jobs.

The consumer is a big part of America’s GDP, and wage growth is a key component of economic growth, said former Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, who now guest lectures in political science and economics at the University of Notre Dame. “The lower-middle income and low-income [consumers] have seen wage growth, which has helped consumption,” Ryan said during the NRF Big Show’s “2020 Perspectives: Retail on the Global Socio-Economic Stage” talk Monday at New York City’s Javits Center. Wage growth would have been higher save for the trade dispute with China, he added.

Talk of a yield curve inversion last August helped provide a bit of economic caution over a possible slowdown,  which in turn eased some trade tension, Ryan said. “Not many thought we could see a downturn in an election year,” he added, referring to November’s U.S. presidential election.

Education is important because the federal government is not good at picking which technologies or companies will be the winners in a tech war. “It’s better at [funding] basic research,” he said, adding that the federal government can then back that up by preparing workers to take these jobs.

Education will also help get more people into the economy. As birth rates go down and Baby Boomers retire, the labor market will continue to be tight against the backdrop of demand for more workers. The solution is education, Ryan said, adding that he sees a future where technical colleges can play a key role by providing two-year training programs over the more traditional four-year degrees.

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“Inequality is due to lack of economic mobility. That’s why we have to look at education,” he said.

As for the war with China, “We will not win the race with China if it’s about spending money. They will outspend us,” he said.

Looking at future technologies, such as 5G, “If we move to commoditize the white box fight, [then] we should win on software,” he said, citing that as an example of how to fight the tech battle and win.

Ryan is a proponent of the federal government outlining a base legal framework for the tech sector. And policing the sector should be left up to federal groups, he said, because the “industry understands itself better than government, which can provide a backstop like the FTC.”

Heading into 2020 and beyond, “The 21st-century challenge is this enormous crown jewel of an industry that’s wonderful for America to have,” he said, referring to big tech. How so? It has created disruption in employment. “We want privacy. We want to own our own data, but we [also] don’t want a structure that will prevent companies from innovating,” Ryan said.

“Laws have to be put in place to protect our values. Fines [can be used] if there are violations. [We’ll] have to have accountability and transparency,” he said, adding that where the law does matter would be in ensuring a level playing field that allows companies to enter and disrupt.