Rediscovering a Sense of National Purpose in the United States
Will a lack of unified national purpose cause the United States to fall behind Asia?
June 3, 2008
Chinese economic strategy statements center on the objective of creating indigenous innovation and export-oriented, high-tech companies.
The Indian message of building a knowledge-based, advanced technology society is ubiquitous, appearing even on lamppost signs throughout New Delhi. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao summed up the joint Indo-Chinese vision as signifying the coming of the Asian century of the information technology industry.
With this vision front and center, both governments are able to mobilize substantial financial resources and take other difficult steps to realize their national objective.
In the United States, in sad contrast, there are conflicting views and no broadly shared sense of national purpose or destiny.
Influential voices claim that the large U.S. trade deficit in manufactures — including for advanced technology products — is not a problem. In the meantime, many interest groups seek to regulate and tax U.S. companies in ways that reduce — rather than enhance their international competitiveness.
Experts in business and academia are seen to speak out about the vital U.S. interest in maintaining technological leadership and export competitiveness. However they receive only limited attention from political leaders and the general public.
A broader vision and deeper sense of national purpose are clearly needed from the political leadership in both political parties — if effective remedial action is to be forthcoming. U.S. technological leadership and export competitiveness are under serious threat.
The October 2005 report of the National Academies of Science which triggered the President’s competitiveness initiative three months later, made the point forcefully.
The gathering Chinese technological strength was highlighted, for example, by observing that of 120 chemical plants being built around the world with price tags of $1 billion or more, one is in the United States and 50 are in China.
The report then concluded:
“Having reviewed trends in the United States and abroad, the Committee is deeply concerned that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength. . . . We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost — and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost — if indeed it can be regained at all.”
This is the challenge which needs to be met with a strong sense of national purpose and commitment.
Unfortunately, during the two parties’ presidential debates of 2007 and 2008, the subject was never raised as a matter of high national priority by any of the many candidates or by the media and other questioners.
One can hope that it will be given more attention during the final course of the U.S. election campaign, and in the program of the new administration.
Editor’s Note: This excerpt is adapted from Ernest Preeg’s book, “India and China.” Printed by the permission of the author and publisher.
In the United States, there are conflicting views and no broadly shared sense of national purpose or destiny.
A broader vision and deeper sense of national purpose are clearly needed from the political leadership in the U.S. — if effective remedial action is to be forthcoming.
Of 120 chemical plants being built around the world with price tags of $1 billion or more, one is in the United States — and 50 are in China.
Ernest H. Preeg
Senior Fellow for Trade and Productivity at Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI Ernest H. Preeg has been senior fellow for trade and productivity at Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI since 2002. He is a career foreign service officer and was a member of the U.S. delegations to the Kennedy and Uruguay Rounds of trade negotiations. He also served as Deputy Assistant […]