America is out of touch and behind the times on climate change and economic reform. It is mired in a stagnant war that the rest of the west has abandoned or is abandoning. American global influence is in decline, the country having lost the respect of allies and the credibility to lead. As we’ve seen yet again in last week’s brinkmanship by Turkey, American diplomacy has all the vim and vigour of Fred Thompson. For now America remains the world leader, but it’s moving steadily from superpower to first among equals. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sciences. …
… Overseas institutions and companies are increasingly competitive, and federal and state funding for science and engineering has fallen significantly, to just 0.8% of GDP. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are sucking up federal money, with President Bush last week asking Congress to raise the war budget for 2008 to $196bn. That’s quite an opportunity cost.
As Tom Friedman put it in his New York Times column on Iraq recently: “Can we pay for it and be making the investments in infrastructure, science and education needed to propel our country into the 21st century?” The answer, judging from speakers at the TechNet summit at Berkeley earlier this month, is no.
Watkin cites a report titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” which was authored by The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), a joint unit of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.
It’s hard to ignore the scientists and business leaders who wrote the Gathering Storm report when they write, bluntly: “We are worried about the future prosperity of the United States.” As the US slides, other countries are catching up too rapidly. I think Americans will look back at the second half of the 20th century as the pinnacle of American power and influence.
The comments to this post are almost more alarming than the post. A number of American wingnuts responded, claiming that Chinese engineers can’t be compared to American engineers because Asians have no creativity, and hey, we landed on the moon.
The notion that America and Americans are intrinsically superior is so deeply ingrained on the Right that no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary is likely to flush it out. Also, American conservatives by nature will ignore and deny an impending problem until it bites their butts, and then they blame Democrats for not solving it.
You’ve probably had this experience yourselves — mention the mere possibility that the U.S. could be less economically dominant at some point in the future, and if there’s a wingnut present he will laugh at you. Nope, not possible, he says. The way things have been in my lifetime is the way they will always be, forever and ever, amen.
American economic dominance grew out of several factors. The United States was one of the few large industrial nations to emerge from World War II without massive war damage and with its manufacturing base intact and productive, for example. Mortgage subsidies helped the new married couples of the Greatest Generation to purchase homes, and the GI bill sent a large part of the population to college, and in turn those college graduates started businesses, developed new technologies, created new products. America dominated the second half of the 20th century partly by circumstance of war and geography and partly because we invested in ourselves.
These days college is prohibitively expensive. Our manufacturing base is moving overseas, and the current POTUS seems to think this is a good thing. A major American city suffers massive damage from floods, and two years later the federal government continues to show a remarkable lack of interest in setting things right. About one in six Americans lacked health insurance for all of 2005, and our elected “leaders” look the other way and talk glibly about fictional “market solutions.” Anti-government conservative ideology so dominates American politics that we can’t even have sensible discussions about using government to address our growing problems.
We’re strangling ourselves with our own stinginess to each other.