When I was in high school in the late 80’s it was commonly thought that anyone interested in having a reasonably good chance at earning a living in “the future” should learn to speak Japanese. At the time it looked like they were on their way to owning most of the US and an American who could speak to them in their native tongue would be living high on the hog… samurai style. Then came the personal computing and internet revolution and Silicon Valley made it safe to be plain old American again… with a new found appreciation for sushi of course.
Well friends, it seems like our reprieve has run out. The very thing that saved us once before, the network, now threatens to leave us on the side of the road squirming in our irrelevance as China and India speed right by us. (At this point I’d advise anyone who is concerned by this to go an read Thomas Friedman’s new book, The World Is Flat. I haven’t been able to rid it’s themes from my mind since I read it over a month ago.) Yes once again it seems that acquainting our children with the cultures of Asia is a smart and necessary play… and this time there may not be an escape hatch.
In a recent lecture former World Bank head James Wolfensohn warned of the coming shift of economic power from the wealthy western states like the US to Asian countries… most notably India and China. Essentially, Wolfenshon’s argument boils down to this basic advice… if you don’t want to be one big, fat, lazy third world also-ran you need to get your asses in gear and start taking some steps to prepare for this shift. (This is Friedman’s basic take on things as well.)
The most glaringly obvious step would be to shore up the educational efforts in math and science, but there is something else that may have a more profound effect… nationalized health care. If the US is to be at all competitive in the economic environment of the twenty-first century it needs to do something to lessen the burden on businesses and lower the costs of manufacturing, research and development in the states. Government sponsored health benefits would go a long way toward doing that.
The US Government also needs to take more initiative in developing solutions to the burgeoning energy crisis. We need to be oil free and we can be. With right mix of Federal policy and private sector innovation green energy companies could spawn an economic boom that would not only help save the planet, but would make the dot com boom of the late nineties seem insignificant by comparison. Someone in power (maybe President Gore) needs to jump start this… somebody needs to throw down a challenge and make it an unassailable, national fact that we will be oil free in ten years.
While it seems that our economic future is rather bleak it is not necessarily so. There is a lot that can and should be done and with a progressive and enlightened government it will be done. Wait… may be we are fucked. How do you say hello in Chinese?