The Danger of Drift
Part of the reason our rivals are catching up is their lower costs. A high-tech company in the United States, says the national commission, can now find and employ eight young engineers in India for the cost of just one in America. But another reason is that China and India are aggressively preparing for the future through education. Within five years, observers believe, 90 percent of all of the world's scientists and engineers will live in Asia.
We are already feeling the front edges of the economic storm putting downward pressure on incomes here. In one recent period, low-wage employers in companies like Wal-Mart (the nation's largest corporate employer) and McDonald's produced 44 percent of the country's new jobs, while high-wage employers generated just 29 percent. Unless we turn things around, we will soon see a steep downward slide in our standard of living.
All these storms are tied together. Mediocre schools mean we become less competitive. High medical costs make it impossible to bring our deficits down. A lack of energy independence makes us even more hostage to others. Losing our competitive edge lowers our incomes and makes it harder to pay for better schools and information systems that could help reduce healthcare costs. Each gathers force year by year.
In writing his books on World War II, Winston Churchill entitled the first The Gathering Storm. It was obvious in the 1930s, he said, that threats were rapidly building in Nazi Germany; yet the political leaders in Britain and France looked away, drifting into the future. One day, it was too late. Will history now repeat itself in America?