8 Responses to “An Assessment of America’s Future”

  1. Hu Zushu says:

    Don,
    I agree with your analysis of the problems facing the U.S. There are a few points I’d like to make.
    Free market economy can undoubtedly unleash the wealth-creating potential residing in every individual and thus contribute to the development of a country’s economy. But the dark side of it is, it also promotes egoism and irresponsibility. In the course of perfecting the Union, America has achieved considerable progress in fighting the white egoism during the Civil War, the corporate egoism and irresponsibility during the Great Depression and the egoism of the affluent and wealthy class during the civil rights movement – to just name a few. But in a free market economy egoism and irresponsibility if left unchecked will certainly continue to wreak havoc. Not only is it apparent in the 2008 financial crisis, but also in the US politics nowadays where the Administration is rendered almost ineffective through the blockade tactics of the Congress. The two big US political parties (in particular the GOP) are not what they used to be anymore as they have demonstrated themselves as not being able to put the country’s interests above the partisan interests. In the twenty-first century one could not but shake one’s head in disbelief that in a highly civilized country like the US there would emerge a party like the Tea Party spreading half-truths and twisted truths around. This is unfortunately the distressed state of the Union at present.
    Another point I’d like to make concerns consumerism which is a vital factor in the sustainablility of the US economy. As we all know, the earth is a finite place and its resources are finite too. Big houses, big cars, big expenditures etc are symbols of American consumerism. When I was on the American freeways I found it just inacceptable to see a great majority of the cars on the road have only one person in them. Imagine how the earth would look like if the Chinese and Indians were to copy the lifestyle of Americans in the years to come! It is also exactly the indulgence in consumerism that has contributed to the enormous American debt and deficit. Among the many problems the US have to solve, to ask the Americans to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle is probably the hardest challenge. Look, the leading environmentalist Al Gore is not even willing to give up his big mansion and his flying with helipcopters to meetings!
    Best regards
    Zushu

  2. Dominic Wong says:

    Don,

    Very interesting and thoughtful article. I agree with most of your observations but just want to make a comment on the international standardized test. Standardized tests, no matter how well they are designed, at best test students’ ability to learn and remember, but not their creativity and certainly not their ability to innovate. The educational systems in Asian countries (like Taiwan and Singapore) are structured for their students to achieve good scores in standardized tests, but not to invent. Taiwan and Singapore leaders (political, academic and others) are concerned that while their students have pretty high scores in PISA test, their countries produce few world class scientists, not to mention companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, or Microsoft. More and more people now believe that over-emphasize of standardized tests won’t produce students that can innovate and invent, only students that know how to take tests.

    Dominic

  3. Lyndon Pan says:

    Don,

    Many thanks for your thoughtful summary on the future of the US
    economy. I just would like to add a couple of concerns:

    1. The national debt is not limited to the debt at the federal
    level. At this time, nearly all 50 states and a significant
    number of local townships are technically insolvent.

    Fortunately, the values and fate of foreign holdings on the
    debt/stocks of semi-government agencies (e.g., Freddic/Fennie)
    do not need to be included as national debt.

    2. In terms of competitiveness, the US is facing yet another big
    problem: the deteriorating infrastructures (e.g., bridges,
    sewage systems, water supplies, electricity grids, highways,
    dams, airports, levies) which need hundreds of billions, if
    not trillions of dollars to repair/maintain.

    Just another perspectives to the big picture.

    Lyndon Pan

  4. Don says:

    Dominic,

    You raised an important and valid point. It requires some more discussion to clarify this issue. First, it is true that it is very difficult for a standardized test to predict a student’s future creativity and innovation. However, the ability to apply what students have learned to solve practical problems is relevant to global competitiveness, and that is something that the PISA tests try to measure. Of course one can still argue whether students can be trained to do better even in that kind of tests. So I don’t think one can draw a definitive conclusion. But let’s look at several other related phenomena.

    One is the International Physics and Math Olympiad, which is an extremely difficult test for the very best high school students in physics and math. These are definitely tests that don’t just ask you to regurgitate what you have learned, but they test your ability to use what you have learned to analyze and solve very complex and difficult problems. For the 2008 International Physics Olympiad (the latest one that I can find the complete results), each country sent five representatives. Here are the results. The five Chinese representatives placed 1, 2, 3, 20, and 39. The five U.S. representatives placed 33, 35, 36, 45, and 48. For the 2008 International Math Olympiad, each country sent six representatives. Here are the results. The six Chinese representatives placed 1, 6, 10, 17, 41, and 47. The six U.S. representatives placed 2, 34, 45, 51, 55, and 72.

    The second one is the number of international patent applications. The U.S. still files the most number of international patents, but other countries are catching up rapidly. For example, in 2010, the U.S. filed 44,855 applications, followed by Japan with 32,156 applications, Germany with 17,171 applications, and China with 3,942 applications. Although there is still a very large gap between the U.S. and China, the U.S.’ 2010 filing was down 1.7% from 2009, but China’s 2010 filing was up 56.2% from 2009! Among companies, in 2010 the Japanese company Panasonic kept its top spot filing 2,154 patent applications. The Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer ZTE was second filing 1,863 applications, and the Chinese telecommunications solutions provider Huawei was fourth filing 1,528 applications. The top American company was Qualcomm in third place filing 1,677 applications. I think the trend is clear that China is rapidly closing the gap in international patent applications.

    The third one is the long dominance of Japanese and German automobile and electronic manufacturers, with Korea also becoming a strong competitor.

    The fourth phenomenon is the large percentage of graduate students in science and engineering in American universities who are foreign students. For example, in 2006 (the year I can easily find the relevant statistics), the foreign student population earned approximately 36.2% of the doctorate degrees in the sciences and approximately 63.6% of the doctorate degrees in engineering. If this phenomenon continues, the U.S. will be heavily dependent on foreign students on its research and development. Furthermore, as other countries become more developed, many of these graduate school graduates will return to their native countries to work, instead of staying in the U.S. and becoming part of the U.S.’s technological work force.

    Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that other countries have either advanced beyond the U.S. or closing the gap of competitiveness with the U.S. in the sense that they will be able to compete by producing high quality and new products, while doing it at a lower cost. Regarding your comment that most of the innovative technological advances in the last 30 years still originated in the U.S., I just want to point out that it takes more time to catch up in the area of major innovations and breakthroughs. For example, the 15 year old students taking the PISA tests will take at least another 10-15 years before they reach their major productivity years. Let’s wait and see.

    Thanks for your valuable comments.

    Don

  5. John Shanton says:

    Excellent review and analysis of what is ailing this country! I too, worry about how quickly it is “going to hell in a handbasket.” Pardon the cliche, but this is no longer the America I once knew.
    And my point of view is taken from ground level. Being a rather “down-to-earth” guy, I have a lot to say that is nothing high-flown, but, right on target.
    I consider myself someone who belongs to the World War Two generation, and so, I can see , very clearly, the difference in the make-up and mindset between – the youth (the “future” of our country) of the present era to the youths of that time. Observe what the young people of our country today are largely into, any day, and you will find yourself in the depths of depression. I need not go into great detail here. Their total absorption with their cellphones, not to mention themselves will open your eyes to how absolutely dumbed down they are! Their texting alone will tell you how bereft of language skills these ones! The bleak futures they are leading themselves into, therefore… Consider, too, their being so taken up with their desk and laptops. True, computer literacy is of paramount importance today, but have you seen what sites they go to mostly?
    We have a generation of dysfunctionals on our hands! Not just namby-pamby ones, going nilly-willy about their day, but true “American Idles.” All with not much on their minds but mayhem, spawned by the evil elements that are out to do the country in! Where, you must know.
    Their being so easily led (astray) is because they often do not get the proper upbringing. I cannot but agree with the experts who decry the state of most American homes today. Just go to any Walmart and observe the folks shopping there. With kids or not, see how they waddle about, with no shame…. Unshaven, unkempt, ugly, and ill-mannered. Their kids, if they are in tow, generally behave badly. It is no wonder they grow up to be natural born slackers!
    Compare these despicables of our times with the 18s and 19s of the 40s, many commanding four-engine bombers and taking charge of crews under the most difficult of circumstances. If not under fire.
    I cannot but say, should any major war break out, we are done! (Is it why our present “heroes” in Iraq and Afghanistan are getting nowhere?)
    See what I am saying when I tell you where my viewpoints come from?
    From where I stand, I say too, our government is what is killing the country. The taxes are way, way too high. That is why there is such a hew and cry out there coming from those who are “taxed enough already!” I number myself with them, even though I have never protested in front of the Capital. Why? I do not have the free time to do so! I run a small office maintenance business. And I can speak my peace – with clarity here regarding the state of the union and the reason why the economy is in the tank.
    I used to make six-figures (one year) running my business. I had quite a number of people working my accounts, and I was thinking of growing my business more with each year. Well, the taxman came and soon, I found it not worth my while to do much but just to make enough to pay my bills. I saw no reason to be paying someone elses’ bills, working my fingers to the bone. Why even be giving Uncle Sam the lion’s share of my take-home? Every day when I went on the road, I paid my taxes… The gas I had to buy to get me to my jobsite was taxed. The food I bought along the way was taxed… The things I had to buy to get my job done too… Plus my income,… but what income? The money my accounts paid me to do the work, I came to find out was really my blood, sweat, and tears… all converted into currency. I should not have to pay any taxes on it! I had really no income to speak of, come to think of it, as then, I had to pay my workers too, and they took a sizable chunk out of what I made… They had to put food on the table even more than I did, They had kids, and more… So, I cut back, and back,… until I had only one helper. I made enough, but not enough to hire a fulltime employee. See, had the tax rates been low for me, I could have grown my business. But, no, they were not, and so….
    What Washington, D.C. should do too, is to cut back…
    As I see it, they are paying people who do not even work for them! Look at the millions here living on his dole. Many of them have gotten on the welfare rolls – somehow, and I add, are not qualified one bit to be there too! And all over the world, there are people on the take as well. If the government were to really get serious about things, I can assure you, billions, if not trillions could be saved by year’s end.
    Look at what our military is costing us too! The money that is being bled from the treasury – just because we have to be the world’s police force. I served in the Air Force, and am honorably retired, and so, I can put in my two-cents’ worth here. Our military does not have to have all the fancy hi-tech jets anymore. The un-manned drones will soon be our first-line fighters, and so, ax out the current stealth program. We are fine with our present fighter forces. We can save a ton of money, right there.
    Then, cut back on our involvement in South West Asia. Pull back our forces so that our southern borders can be secured. Before long, with our forces working back home, our need to grow our military with volunteers will diminish. Again, save another ton of money there! And put the money in medical research, and make the USA the top life-saving hospital to the world. Let all the sick of the world come here to find healing. I am sure that alone will boost our status in evey country’s eyes. Plus make the world a much more friendly place.
    Talking about health and healing, ax Obamacare. Just tweak the parts of our health system that need to be improved. Like getting health care costs pared down… No need to drastically change things. I have military health care, and I can say this, it is very good. It is based on how one takes care of oneself, and let me say this: that is the best policy. Loook at the sick in our country and you will come to understand that the whole health and wellness philosophy has to be revamped. Americans live with no though of tomorrow, by and large. Their lifestyle is high risk, one that is fraught with carelessness, ignorance and neglect. Most of the sick got sick because they had too much of everything. Too much booze, too much smokes, too much fat… too much of “who gives a hoot”… ” And sadly, too little work. And instead of correcting that part, our healthcare system seems to want to live off of it! This selfish greed needs to stop.
    And talking about greed, I have to add, that, “bigger is better” mindset. Americans want everything to be big… And what better place to see this than – the way they regard their “pride and joy.” Their cars. Every year, we see more and more cars out on the road with engines that seem to go up and up in the horsepower department. Is there any need for a 500 horsepower car in this day and age? No. Most of us drive sensible cars. or trucks. We pay not much money to drive. But these clowns who drive the 500 fire-breathing horsepower monsters pay the same. Should they not be paying more? Just going across the board nationally, and getting the whole car registration payment scale looked at, and put on a fair, but firm pro-rated plan would bring in trillions annually. Sufficient to pay of the national debt. To balance things, take down a couple notches the house taxes. Help those who are really in need of a hand. Hot-rod boy racers will pay whatever, to burn rubber. Give them the opportunity to do so, and help the country get out of debt.
    I can go on, but I may get thrown off this page! So, I had better stop. I have a list of to-dos a yard long to help fix things,… but, next time!

  6. Rich Braverman says:

    Don

    Thank you for a well written and clear analysis of the problems facing the American people. I am in agreement with many of your views. What is needed however are solutions to these problems. Yes education is bad but how do you make substantial improvements? Yes the national debt is bad but how do you change the direction? Yes the housing situation is bad but how do you change that direction?

    In sddition to some of the suggestions made by John Shanton I would add a few here:

    We have no compelling need to dominate the world with about 900 military bases in dozens of countries. Phase them out over the next few years.

    Remove the troops ( 100% ) from Iraq within two months.

    Stop all Federal subsidies for private companies.

    Replace the Income Tax with a consumption tax.

    Etc.

    Rich

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