Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The World Steam Roller

At the oft clueless New York Times, Friedman writes a long article about the new flat earth.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail for India, going west. He had the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. He never did find India, but he called the people he met ''Indians'' and came home and reported to his king and queen: ''The world is round.'' I set off for India 512 years later. I knew just which direction I was going. I went east. I had Lufthansa business class, and I came home and reported only to my wife and only in a whisper: ''The world is flat.''

Earth to Friedman: the disasterous changes that are destroying America have easily traced roots. Even without the electronic revolution, we were doomed years and years ago by several historical forces that we ignored and continue to ignore. One is, size does matter. All major nations have several levels of economic activity. The fundamental basis for this is population. How many there are, what is their condition, do they have potential economic capacity or are they tapped out by debts? How educated are they and in what? How mobile are they? Can they cross class barriers easily? Are they unstable due to ethnic strife?

All of Asia has gone through a rapid and thorough revolution this last thirty years. Early on, all of these nations decided to invest heavily in education so they could produce huge numbers of people who can move up and into industry and science easily. To do this, they sent a flood of students to America and Europe to learn needed skills. At first, the governments subsidizing this tidal flow of students were worried about them not returning. China, for example, only let married students with children out. The family sat hostage at home. I watched first hand the failure of this system. The ones who wanted to stay in America simply dropped the Chinese family and married here. So they changed gears and made it very easy for families to float in and out of America. They even now encourage this. If even 30% of them never return, they are still valuable here in America, they are an open conduit for passing information and forging alliances and political muscle.

All the other Asian countries decided to do this. It worked for the excess population of engineers and scientists and doctors were enough for everyone. America benefitted from this massive river of talent. I used to work at an institution and about 2/3 of the engineering students were from Asia and in the computer chip fab lab, 99% were from overseas. One American besides myself.

Meanwhile, American schools are shutting down shop. We fret about simple things like literacy or adding and subtracting as our children grow pensive and peevish. We wonder how we can fix this. Meanwhile, the right wing wants to turn back the scientific clock! The Asians don't care, they are already withdrawing supporting students in America thanks to Homeland Security and the deterioration in American colleges in California, thanks to the Terminator. As our dear readers on the article here, "Downsizing and Degrading", the scythe of layoffs are ravaging the universities and colleges of that state and the dumbing down of America continues apace.

Any statistical study of populations and careers shows America is at a severe disadvantage with Asia when it comes to producing the techie muscle we need to innovate and run a first rate economy. Let's say all nations have a 3% graduate degree level. 3% of 1.4 billion is much greater in number than 3% of 250 million. The competitive advantage lies with the greater sized populations. When you add into this the profound native decline in technological degrees in America and Britain, the numbers being churned out by Asia dwarf the numbers we manage to eke out. This collapse of our ability to generate educated technological staff lies in the lap of the American capitalist system. More than one eager student has worked hard only to discover they are a mere cog to the nation and tossed brutally aside. So security, no safe haven, running pillar to post, desperate to do what they are trained to do, changing careers constantly in a vain attempt at finding an intellectual home...in vain.

Our leaders and their corporate supporters have basically tossed us all aside. They don't need Americans anymore. They can get Asians to do our jobs, cheaper. So they toss the few remaining techie Americans aside and laugh as the pocket the profits from the hard working, government protected Asians. Once we finish off the last of American brainiac talent pool, the Asians will turn on us and dictate the new terms: we pay through the nose for their services. They want nothing from us so we have to find some way of inducing trade. Eh? What? Sell all our natural resources?

This has happened before. Again and again. History is littered with the bones of empires that gave up being vital.

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