Monday, 24 May 2010

Coming to America (without Eddie Murphy)...and finding?

As I arrived in the U.S., the border agent at JFK inquired, "Why do you travel to these places?" It was a legitimate question given that my passport pages look like they were used for 'worst-case' scenario training at homeland security. Yet, it was the incredulity with which he asked the question and subsequent ones that took me aback: "Why would you choose to be in Dubai?" As I went for secondary baggage screening -- where a toy abacus for my niece's one year birthday was studied intently -- I was not really troubled by any of the vigilant security: expected and understood. However, it crystallized a growing dilemma that I see for America's future direction. In an increasingly globalized world, with emerging markets set to become economic powerhouses, and an East likely to best the West, what will be the role of the 20th century superpower? What will the journey be from Henry Luce's American Century, to what is assuredly a Global Century?

I flew into JFK on Emirates Airlines, who just turned a profit of $1bn in the struggling aviation industry. Now Emirates is no perfect company, yet the difference in flying that airline, and Delta, which was my connection into DC, was akin to the difference between an Apple and a PC (okay that comparison may not work for you depending on which line of the divide you fall, but you get the point). Each time our flight time would approach, the airline would delay it by another half an hour. 6pm became 630pm. 630 became 7 and so on. The problem? They were trying to assemble a crew. First they had the captain. Then they lost the captain. Then another captain had arrived from Cleveland, but then nobody could find him. Stuck with old systems, union-driven regulations, and a spectacular lack of operational inefficiency, American airline operators could sadly represent the next generation of American companies.

It is quite harsh to treat the American private sector by the performance of US Airways, Delta and their ilk. Why not Google? Or Apple for that matter? Are they not industry leaders? If you look at the top ten companies by patent applications, you do not find a single American corporation: leading the pack is Huawei Technologies. There is no doubt that dynamic companies from Tata in India to LG in South Korea are and will be dominant innovation leaders. Global talent will not continue to flock to the US for education, and even when they do, they will often look to return for jobs in their countries of origin.

It is more than just the dynamism of a private sector, but the dynamism of a country that is the throes of a recession. On one hand you do have a political outlook that sees that the landscape of the future will not mirror that in the past, which embraces globalization, understands that international institutions and a framework of globally accepted norms will become more important, especially when the U.S. will no longer be able to bully others into submission or simply inertly follow its own direction. Yet on the other, represented by Glenn Beck, John Bolton, Sarah Palin and others, there is a shocking insularity that goes beyond "Buy American."



This is the philosophy that there is not much of value beyond our borders and our own core culture. English is singularly valuable, and other languages are simply a bridge to nowhere. Humility and respect in exercising power are signs of weakness. Building cross-national and cross-cultural bridges are un-American. Institutions such as the United Nations are there to thwart American might.

In a Global Century, the world will not be defined by a singular American presence. An inward-looking philosophy that obstructs an international consciousness and entrenches both the private and public sectors in a bygone past  is the biggest threat to America's future. Beyond terrorism. Beyond some strange Russian revival. Beyond cyber-threats. A U.S. that is isolated, declining economically, and culturally unaware will create damage beyond any Al Qaeda operation.

7 comments:

  1. What is the source of your patent applications statistic?

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  2. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

    HUAWEI TECHNOLOGIES CO., LTD. CN 1,737
    PANASONIC CORPORATION JP 1,729
    KONINKLIJKE PHILIPS ELECTRONICS N.V. NL 1,551
    TOYOTA JIDOSHA KABUSHIKI KAISHA JP 1,364
    ROBERT BOSCH GMBH DE 1,273
    SIEMENS AKTIENGESELLSCHAFT DE 1,089
    NOKIA CORPORATION FI 1,005
    LG ELECTRONICS INC. KR 992
    TELEFONAB LM ERICSSON (PUBL) SE 984
    FUJITSU LIMITED JP 983

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  3. What a great Article very well said. What you are saying confirms that the AGENDA of(you know who) is to bring down the U.S power just like they did to British Empire in the 1900s and this time the new point of control which is the origin of all the persons in high positions and power; the state of Israel. How can the American people not see it coming specially at this point where America is falling economically and who is controlling their money??? The Federal Reserve! What is the Federal Reserve? A PRIVATE sector not controlled by the Americans however RAN BY Ben Bernanke who is Jewish and proudly supports the state of Israel. I have one last question for the American people. Americans money and blood has been shed to protect the state of Israel for decades, can someone tell me why? No one has tried invading Israel however many countries have been invaded to secure them! How come? Besides has anyone looked at how their economy is doing?

    F.A

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  4. The US still ranks first as a country by patent applications with 29.4% of the total. China comes in at 5.1% and India does not break the top 15. Aggregate private sector patent applications in the US exceed any other country.

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  5. There is no question that today the US is still an innovation leader -- but look at where the new innovation leaders (i.e. companies) are also coming from: outside the U.S. I think that will assuredly be a more common trend. It's a new emergence and should be acknowledged as such.

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  6. Very nice writing and good argumentation. That said, I think that this misses the broader point - Democrats, led by a black president raised abroad, won the elections two years ago by a comfortable margin. I agree that there are a lot of things/people in the US that are disturbing (Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck foremost amongst them), and that there has been a bit of a swing to the right in the last two years, but I don't think those represent the dominant trend. They are just really loud.

    -Tom

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  7. Good point Tom.

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