The notion that the United States, like a Phoenix from the ashes, will rise up to meet the "challenges" it faces is so wholly absurd that even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman can hardly believe it.
I confess, I find it dispiriting to read the polls and see candidates, mostly Republicans, leading in various midterm races while promoting many of the very same ideas that got us into this mess. Am I hearing right?
[Lists his reasons why politics is irrelevant to what ails us. Mostly blames Republicans.]
... All that’s missing is any realistic diagnosis of where we are as a country and what we need to get back to sustainable growth. Actually, such a diagnosis has been done. A nonpartisan group of America’s most distinguished engineers, scientists, educators and industrialists unveiled just such a study in the midst of this campaign.
Here is the story: In 2005 our National Academies responded to a call from a bipartisan group of senators to recommend 10 actions the federal government could take to enhance science and technology so America could successfully compete in the 21st century. Their response was published in a study, spearheaded by the industrialist Norman Augustine, titled Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.
The Gathering Storm report was updated last month, as Friedman describes—
So, on September 23, the same group released a follow-up report: Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.
“The subtitle, Rapidly Approaching Category 5, says it all,” noted Charles M. Vest, the former M.I.T. president. “The committee’s conclusion is that "in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.”
But I thought: “We’re number 1!”
“Here is a little dose of reality about where we actually rank today,” says Vest:
- 6th in global innovation-based competitiveness
- 40th in rate of change over the last decade
- 11th among industrialized nations in the fraction of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from high school
- 16th in college completion rate
- 22nd in broadband Internet access
- 24th in life expectancy at birth
- 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering
- 48th in quality of K-12 math and science education
- 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people
“This is not a pretty picture, and it cannot be wished away,” said Vest...
No, it's not a pretty picture. And for your information, Tom, we're not No. 1 anymore. We're No. 11 according to Newsweek, and even that ranking was a gross overestimate as I demonstrated in another post.
Some sensational websites like to post long lists of grim facts entitled "14 (or 17 or 22) Reasons Why Some Disaster Is Unavoidable." I usually shy away from such facile Doomer Porn, but since the highly esteemed authors (like former MIT president Charles Vest) of the Gathering Storm Revisited report can't resist temptation, I thought I would give you a taste of why they're worried. The lists below cover about 2/3rds of the factoids mentioned in the report.
As to Tom Friedman's point that our politics is completely irrelevant to America's lack of competitiveness, it's good to see Tom trying to get a handle on Reality—I know how difficult actual thought is for him, so imagine how hard it must be for Tom to fully grasp the Empire's Decline. One realization Tom might ponder is that the corrupt political campaigns we are currently witnessing are part and parcel of that Decline.
And now the factoids. Each has an accompanying footnote in the report text to indicate the source. My favorites are:
Forty-nine percent of United States adults do not know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
United States consumers spend significantly more on potato chips than the government devotes to energy R&D.