Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fareed Zakaria on Global Competitiveness

I read Fareed Zakaria's articles with some suspicion. Although Zakaria is regularly critical of the Bush administration, he's too lenient on them, and too willing to give them credit where it's not deserved.

However, I do like his recent piece, How Long Will America Lead the World?
So what should the United States do? What has it done in the past? First, be scared, be very scared. The United States has a history of worrying that it is losing its edge. This is at least the fourth wave of such concerns since 1945. The first was in the late 1950s, produced by the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite. The second was during the early 1970s, when high oil prices and slow growth in the U.S. convinced Americans that Western Europe and Saudi Arabia were the powers of the future and President Nixon heralded the advent of a multipolar world. The most recent one was in the mid-1980s, when most experts believed that Japan would be the technologically and economically dominant superpower of the future. The concerns in each one these cases was well founded, the projections intelligent. But the reason that none of these scenarios came to pass is that the American system—flexible, resourceful and resilient—moved quickly to correct its mistakes and refocus its attention. Concerns about American decline ended up preventing it. As Andy Grove puts it, "Only the paranoid survive."

America's problem right now is that it is not really that scared. There is an intelligent debate about these issues among corporate executives, writers and the thin sliver of the public than is informed on these issues. But mainstream America is still unconcerned. Partly this is because these trends are operating at an early stage and somewhat under the surface. Americans do not really know how fast the rest of the world is catching up. We don't quite believe that most of the industrialized world—and a good part of the nonindustrialized world as well—has better cell-phone systems than we do. We would be horrified to learn that many have better and cheaper broadband—even France. We are told by our politicians that we have the best health-care system in the world, despite strong evidence to the contrary. We ignore the fact that a third of our public schools are totally dysfunctional because it doesn't affect our children. We boast that our capital markets are the world's finest even though of the 25 largest stock offerings (IPOs) made last year, only one was held in America. It is not an exaggeration to say that over the past five years, because of bad American policies, London is replacing New York as the world's financial capital.

1 comment:

ChinaLawBlog said...

Zarqawi is right. The talk about the U.S.'s downfall is neither new nor on target. For instance, the fear mongering numbers on China tend both to be inaccurate and to emphasis quantity over quality.