The United States is still the dominant force in technology, innovation, productivity and profits. But Americans don't quite realize how fast the rest of the world is catching up. Newsweek-June 12, 2006 Issue
Much of the concern centers on the erosion of science and technology in the U.S., particularly in education. Eight months ago, the national academies of sciences, engineering and medicine came together to put out a report that argued that the "scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many nations are gathering strength." There are some who see the decline of science and technology as part of a larger cultural decay. A country that once adhered to a Puritan ethic of delayed gratification has become one that revels in instant pleasures. We're losing interest in the basics—math, manufacturing, hard work, savings—and becoming a postindustrial society that specializes in consumption and leisure. "More people will graduate in the United States in 2006 with sports-exercise degrees than electrical-engineering degrees," says Immelt. "So, if we want to be the massage capital of the world, we're well on our way." 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. Our greatest danger is that when the American public does begin to get scared, they will try to shut down the very features of the country that have made it so successful. They will want to shut out foreign companies, be less welcoming to immigrants and close themselves off from competition and collaboration. Over the past year there have already been growing paranoia on all these fronts. If we go down this path, we will remain a rich country and a stable one. We will be less troubled by the jarring changes that the new world is pushing forward. But like Britain after Queen Victoria's reign, it will be a future of slow, steady national decline. History will happen to us after all.
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