That seems to be the rallying cry of the "free marketeers". They refuse to admit that trade with Southeast Asia is not free. They either don't understand what a floating currency is or they don't care. When they see that multinationals have absolutely no interest in hiring an American they assume it's because we just aren't productive enough. We are just lazy or insufficiently educated.
In a play about Apple Computer's Chinese plants, Mike Daisy goes to Shenzhen to visit FoxConn where he (in an un-retracted part) describes what it was like to see the inside of the factory – there was virtually no noise: no giant whirring robots or conveyor belts. Silence, because the production process is performed mostly by hand. Manual Chinese peasant labor is cheaper to train and reprogram. The workers' lack of education is not a problem – in fact it means they're less likely to ask for a raise. All Chinese plants use far more labor than their American counterparts – adding robots in either country doesn't change the equation enough to matter.
Improving and expanding American education won't solve this problem.
If a company pursues productivity without technology then it's every man for himself. How many dresses can you sew compared to a Vietnamese lady who will work for 1/10 of what you need to survive. How many motherboards can your son construct by hand compared to a former starving rice paddy peasant – chained to his post? The job interview that precedes his hiring will be reminiscent of what your ancestors went through during the industrial revolution in London in the 19th century. Hint: They don't ask how many years he went to college.
All of this is repairable with proper trade policy, that punishes cheaters (Float the Yuan!). Economists who lament the potential rise in consumer goods prices that will follow need to be shot. Do you want job growth or cheap flat screen TV's? Our anachronistic trade policies are bankrupting us and we sit here like boiling frogs discussing education. The number of roads we build, the high (?) level of marginal tax rates and low short term interest rates will not fix this problem! On Wenesday night, Obama and Romney should not be allowed to get away with saying that they will.
The greatest debtor nation in the world cannot afford to subsidize the growth of 3rd world (or Communist) countries. Those who worry about the welfare of their Chinese brethren (or care only for the price of designer jeans) must never be allowed to comment on or criticize our domestic economic malaise.
They can live happily in poverty with their unemployed children and watch Monday Night Football on a huge Samsung flat screen.