American policymakers bicker over every issue, attempting to score political points instead of passing the reforms our country desperately needs, and so economic and social progress is stuck at a crawl. On the other side of the world, however, China and India are flourishing.

When I visited the two nations in March and April, I saw people working with the liveliness and energy that comes with having a clear direction and common goals, which contrasts with the crippling recessions and spending cuts in Europe and the endless political debates in the United States.

The first thing that caught my eye in Shanghai was the highways — two-story roads that extend all the way from the ultramodern airport to the center of the city. Soaring towers are rising everywhere — the sky is literally the limit for the Chinese, and construction never stops or even slows. Many construction crews are working round-the-clock on skyscrapers and public works projects, on a three-shift schedule. It’s obvious that the level of investment is immense.

I took Pablo Neruda’s wonderful book “Oriente” with me to read on the trip: The orderly, thriving metropolis I explored bore almost no resemblance to the drug-plagued, hypersexualized city of the 1920s described by the Chilean poet. China’s brand of state capitalism has produced an extraordinarily dynamic economy.

While this economic activity is transforming the nation, China’s political system hasn’t changed much at all. The Chinese Communist Party maintains absolute control over the army and police, and the press is monitored and censored, as are private users posting on websites and social media channels. But something that Chinese officials understand very well is the power of money: Their priority is to provide a reasonable standard of living for a majority of the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens. People may not have many rights, but they are earning more money, so stability is being maintained for now — few people are asking questions.

India, on the other hand, is the world’s largest democracy, and it shows.

When I landed, I had the overwhelming sense that I had just arrived at the most diverse, intense and mysterious place on the planet. There is nothing quite like getting lost in Varanasi’s scents and flavors en route to the Ganges, or getting caught up in the crowds in New Delhi’s open-air markets. And there is nothing as quite as dazzling as the sun reflected off the white marble of the Taj Mahal.

But there is also no situation as crushing as that of the poorest Indians, which is worse than anything I’ve ever seen. This is the country’s greatest challenge — ensuring that hundreds of millions of people have a chance to rise out of poverty. How will India transform itself, yet preserve its varied and long-held religious traditions?

Indian leaders also recognize that maintaining stability requires massive economic expansion, and partly by tradition and partly by design, the nation has placed a remarkable emphasis on education, particularly in the fields of science, engineering and technology. India’s labor force already manufactures many of the world’s textiles and consumer goods, and most Americans calling businesses with questions about a product or service know that their calls will probably be routed to India, which has become a major provider of customer service operations. It’s hard to think of another country that simultaneously pushes technological innovation forward, yet remains so connected to its vibrant past.

My travels to China and India were revelatory: These are two nations that are blazing paths forward to growth by investing in the future. In the United States, we must do the same. If we do not find a way out of this political morass, it will cost us our technological, economic and military dominance.

The worst part is that most Americans — and our leaders — continue blithely on, convinced that the present status quo is permanent.

It is time for everyone to wake up.

By Jorge Ramos Avalos.

(May 22, 2013)

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”