Amusing economists are about as common as dollar cotton.

I've never seen dollar cotton but I did meet a witty economist recently.

Jeffrey Rosensweig, director of the Global Perspectives Program at Emory University in Atlanta, addressed delegates of the National Cotton Council annual meeting in Austin.

He spoke for more than 30 minutes and I noticed no one nodding off, no mindless foot tapping and no rude whispering in dark corners.

He put the audience at ease by admitting that he wore nothing but 100 percent cotton because he makes a lot of speeches and the comfort of cotton prevents “twitching.”

He also posed an interesting theory as to why developing countries will lead the population increase that adds 75 million people to Planet Earth each year. No ESPN.

Rosensweig also claims to be an optimistic economist. Amusing and optimistic are characteristics one rarely thinks of when picturing economists.

He says the global economy is growing and populations will demand better food and more comfort. After they feed their families, they'll want better fabrics.

“We need to put those 75 million new people a year in cotton.”

But he is an economist after all and economists deal in facts and figures, so part of his message included the projection that China will become the world's largest exporter by 2009 and will surpass the United States as No. 2 (behind Germany) in 2007 or 2008.

But one of the most disturbing points he made concerns education. Rosensweig, a teacher, says 40 percent of his MBA students are from overseas and are better students than those from the United States. “They write better essays — in English,” he said. “And they do their homework.”

He said U.S. students basically don't bother. “They play video games or something.”

I find that quite disturbing but not particularly surprising. I've served as guest lecturer for English and journalism classes and I usually ask for a sampling of student writing to review before I show up. I'm always surprised at how poorly college students write. Not all. I've read work that was quite good, but those were exceptions.

I'm also not all that surprised at the lazy attitude of students (again, not all of them). We have become a society of instant gratification. If we can't learn it from a video, a CD or an iPod (In other words if we have to read and study something to get it.) we just don't bother.

I am convinced that the battle for world supremacy (I'm not certain if there ever can be such a thing or if there should be.) it will not be fought on a battlefield with tanks, rifles and mortars. It will be won or lost in living rooms (with electronics off), around dinner tables, in libraries and classrooms.

And I'm convinced that school boards, teachers, and parents will serve education more by encouraging students to read instead of telling them what they shouldn't read. Let them read anything they're mature enough to understand and then talk about it.

Knowledge is and always has been the key to success. We seem to be losing sight of that. Rosensweig said he was concerned about future generations of Americans. “Will they play golf or will they be caddies?”

How they embrace education may make be the key.