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Fareed Zakaria “But, first, here’s my take. The second presidential debate has been studied and analyzed mostly as a prize fight, who punched hard, who missed a swing. That’s fine.

But there was a substantive aspect to the debate as well. President Obama actually showed up this time and he was engaged and articulate, as was Governor Romney.

As a result, we got a sense of the issues and there is an important and honorable difference between these two candidates. The central question in this election is what will grow the American economy.

Governor Romney’s basic answer is lower taxes and a more streamlined tax code and fewer regulations. President Obama’s answer to the same question would be investments in education, infrastructure, science and technology, as well as support for important sectors like energy and advanced manufacturing.

Both arguments have merit to them so the question is which is our more urgent problem now? Well, the United States is the 7th most competitive economy in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. It’s dropped a bit over the last four years.

Overall, however, whether compared with our own past of, say, 30 years ago when airlines, banks and telecommunications were tightly controlled by government rules or compared with other countries, the United States remains a pretty business-friendly place.

The U.S. economy boomed in the 1950s with tax rates that were much higher than today and Germany, the country that has come out of the current crisis best, is not exactly known for low taxes and low regulation.

As I’ve often pointed out, America is worse off than it was 30 years ago in infrastructure, education and research. The country spends much less than it did on infrastructure.

And, by 2009, federal funding for research of development was half the share of GDP that it was in 1960. The result is we’re falling behind and fast.

A decade ago, the World Economic Forum ranked U.S. infrastructure 5th in the world. In the latest report, we were 25th. The U.S. spends only 2.4 percent of GDP on infrastructure, the Congressional Budget Office noted in 2010, whereas Europe spends 5 percent and China 9 percent.

In the 1970s, America led the world in the number of college graduates. As of 2009, we were 14th among the countries tracked by the OECD. Reversing that decline will cost money.

In other words, the great shift in the U.S. economy over the past 30 years has not been a dramatic increase in taxes and regulation, but rather a decline in investment in human and physical capital.

Now, we should really push on both fronts; a better tax and regulatory system and more investments. But, on the substance, Obama is right to emphasize investments.

You may still think he’s not a good president, but, by the way, Governor Romney, as he pivots to the center, now talks about spending money on retraining and education and boosting manufacturing and exports.

So let’s hope that whoever wins, America gets the investments it sorely needs. Let’s get started.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1210/21/fzgps.01.html

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