The media discusses the Fall of the U.S. as a foregone conclusion. Like the superpowers before, our global overreach, stymied innovation, and ballooning debt has set us on a crash course to failure. Others disagree vehemently, providing metric after metric of our significant financial power and military influence. Yet this black/white polarity avoids understanding each other’s perspective — why it is important to discuss the threats that could lead to the fall of the U.S., and why it is important to remember the pressing need, and our superb ability, to adapt.
China currently has nearly 400 million Internet users. However, 2/3 of these users live off less than $3,60US/year. That’s a lot of people on the Internet, but most have very little money to spend while on it. Most Chinese Internet users don’t own computers and thus visit Internet cafe in order to access the Internet. On the other hand, the U.S. has far less users — 230 million. Yet the income of 2/3 of users is above $50,000US/year. That may not be as many people but it is a far greater collective amount of disposable income.
The concern, of course, shouldn’t be the number of Internet users. It should be the growth potential, and thus possible future economic influence. China currently has 1.3 billion people, indicating a current 30% Internet adoption rate. As their rate and disposable incomes increase, their economic influence will greatly surpass that of the inventing nation of the Internet. Sure, America can continue to innovate the technologies that power the Internet, but the further commercialization of the Web will be focused on the audience of another nation.
The U.S is the most educated nation in the world in terms of total population (not percentage). This isn’t, however, because we attain education at a higher rate. In fact, consider literacy rates — the U.S. literacy rate is ranked 21 out of 180 counties — 21% to 23% of adult Americans are unable “to locate information in text”, can not “make low-level inferences using printed materials”, and are unable to “integrate easily identifiable pieces of information.”
No, the reason why the U.S is the most educated nation is the combination of our respectable (although not best) education attainment rate and our relatively large population. But we’ve hit a ceiling. Education costs have spiraled up out of control far above inflation. Our population can’t compete against that of countries like India, which is predicted to have the world’s most educate population in 2030. The U.S. must adapt to this challenge, but it won’t be by producing more babies.
The U.S. is home to some of the most important innovation companies in the world. Advances in medicine and technology have won the respect of the world. This remarkable innovation is arguably attributable to our educated work-force and free(er)-enterprise market.
Looking closer, however, the picture isn’t so rosy. First, many of the innovators are foreign born — a quarter of the engineering and technology companies started in the U.S. from 1995 to 2005 had at least one founder who was foreign-born. Second, many of the foreigners that come to the U.S to be educated are increasing going back for better opportunities. This isn’t to say educated foreigners are the back-bone of our innovation; this is to raise the flag of concern that an economically challenged country isn’t where the best and brightest want to live.
The U.S. still possesses the innovation scepter, but this will require continued investment in sciences, math, and technology education. It will also require investment in creating more opportunities with small businesses — where innovation originates and either grows or is acquired by large multinationals. Finally, it will require a discontinuation of governmental regulation of the sciences with religious morality. The most promising advances in medicine — such as those from stem cell research — shouldn’t be hindered by the militant governmental enforcements led by religious fanatics. If we don’t make the medical and technical innovations that will keep the U.S. at the forefront of science, some other nation will.
The Coming Tide of Change
The U.S. can’t compete on staggeringly large population numbers. The U.S. is wasting its riches on poor investments — wars and settling other’s conflicts. The U.S. is breeding a culture of worker’s with an inflated sense of entitlement.
So the question stands: are the citizens of the U.S. willing to now reflect on how they can best adapt, or is the Fall of the U.S. — just 100 years after its rise — truly inevitable?