More Evidence of American Decline?

News item #1: The Chinese Tianhe-1A has just been proclaimed the fastest supercomputer in the world, a category perennially dominated by the United States since 2004. The underlying networking technology was built by the National University of Defense Technology, a Chinese scientific research center. According a New York Times article, such supercomputers are “valued for their ability to solve problems critical to national interests in areas like defense, energy, finance and science.”

News item #2: In India, Abhishek Sinha and his brother Abhinav noticed that large numbers of migrant workers coming to Delhi from poorer rural areas had no real means to store their hard earned money or to send money home. As a result, the brothers created a software program that leveraged the ubiquitous local mom-and-pop kiosks as virtual banks that would record, store, and send money through these workers cell phones (read article). The Sinha brothers’ team, EKO India Financial Services, comprises of graduates from India’s top prestigious technology institutes, some of whom worked in the U.S. but came back home.

News item #3: A Nepali telecommunications firm just installed a 3G network service at the top of Mount Everest, so that thousands of climbers and tourists can access the internet through their mobile phones.

All three news stories broke within the past week. In itself, such developments do not seem like a big deal, but it expresses a symbolic shift occurring on a global stage: that countries in Asia are (and have been) poised to take on America for technology and economic superpower status. As discussed in one of my previous posts, the Chinese economy has been growing 10% annually for the past ten years, with substantial investments in education and its infrastructure. It comes as no surprise that this new supercomputer was developed under the dual-supervision of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, the information technology (IT) industry in India continues to account for a major share in its exports, asserting its global technological status and creating national pride. In both cases, the government showed a sense of urgency towards investing in their respective countries’ future.

While China and India are moving assertively towards global superpower status, the U.S., with its feckless partisan bickering, seems to be mired in political and economic stagnation. The long-drawn battle over health care, the economic stimulus package, and education reform demonstrated the increasing polarization of the government and in the American public, and shows no sign of abating with the Republicans now winning the House majority and in prime position to roll back the Obama initiatives. Can the public expect two more years of filibustering? Or will the House and Senate come together and find a collective vision of health care for all citizens and a rigorous education that will produce America’s future leaders? For now, the U.S. has not taken the bold steps necessary to counteract the momentum of the emerging powers of China or India. National pride cannot happen without a united country; as Abraham Lincoln once said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.


Related Articles:

America’s Outlook: Looking Ahead or Looking Back?

Why Blame China for Our Economic Woes?

8 thoughts on “More Evidence of American Decline?

  1. I agree that we need to invest in American education, but how can we change the politics in Washington? I see many more years of partisanship…

  2. As the Chinese continue to ramp up their exports, and purchase more national debt from around the world, the Chinese are becoming a rapidly advancing giant that will be able to impact overseas domestic economic policies. It appears few political leaders have the will to make any shifts which might upset their biggest purchaser of national debt. As the result of this, joblessness will likely stay elevated for a long time.

  3. Have you been to China or India? I have and they are both very much third world countries with neglected infrastructure and extreme poverty. They are gaining ground because of a well-educated but cheap (compared to the U.S.) labor pool. Unfortunately, education is not a panacea for all of our problems. Today there are over 300,000 waiters with college degrees. If every unemployed person in the U.S. were to receive a P.H.D., it would not automatically solve the U.S’s declining role on the world stage nor would it provide full employment.

    1. Yes, I have been to China, both metropolitan as well as rural underdeveloped areas. Clearly, on the whole, there is much that needs to be improved in both countries, with both having an emerging middle and upper class starkly contrasted with a large (uneducated) poorer class. However, this post is really more about China’s (and India’s) emerging economic power. I don’t believe everyone needs a PhD or even a Bachelors, and China does have a growing problem with many unemployed graduates – but that is an issue that will most likely right itself through changes in the marketplace and in government. Though they have neglected infrastructure, the level of growth and investment (a strong 10% economic growth annually over the past decade) is noteworthy for such a large population. The extreme poverty you mentioned is also contrasted with the extreme growth in places like Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Chongqing, along with stalwarts Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing (India includes Bangalore and Ahmedabad among others).

      In fact, as part of my blog’s mission of providing a balanced perspective, I do question China’s perceived inevitable rise to dominance (see link to that post below); frankly, it’s just not that assured due to several factors — the growing class divide being one of them. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Thanks for your reply. For centuries, the western world has evolved at a tremendous pace and dominated the world stage. It is inevitable that poorer countries would eventually catch up and the playing field would even out. For the world at large, this is a good thing not a bad thing. I’m not anti-education. However, I feel there is a lot of hysteria created by politicians, the educational infrastructure (which have much to gain by fueling the hysteria), and the media. When you deconstruct an argument, often times well meaning people percieve a problem and then present a solution as fact instead of an opinion. For every problem, solutions implemented on a grand scale often have a myriad of unintended consequences which no one can fathom until the “solution” plays itself out in the world.

    1. It’s interesting, though I generally advocate for education, I do think in America there is a misguided attempt to push everyone to go to college. This merely results in “creeping credentialism”, whereby the requirements for employment increase for menial jobs. But the fact is the only way for poorer countries to compete economically is through education. For me, the bigger question is how to educate, and that is what I believe we are doing incorrectly. China too, for that matter, though they are trying to move past mere accountability and standards.

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