It has long been my observation that American 18-year-olds are more incompetent than 18-year-olds in other advanced countries, but that American 30-year-olds are the most competent 30-year-olds in the world.
…Why should this be so? I think it's because from ages 6 to 18 Americans live mostly in Soft America, while from ages 18 to 30 they live mostly in Hard America.
Let me define my terms. Hard America is made up of all those parts of American life where you have competition and accountability. Soft America is made up of those parts where you don't. Hard America includes, among other things, the high-tech private sector. Soft America includes, among other things, high school, at least for the large majority of kids who aren't applying to selective colleges.