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The value of technology: The USA will not decline any time soon

piero scaruffi

March 19, 2013

In the age of self-defeatism it may sound strange to claim that the USA has never been so powerful, but critics forget that technology has always been a major driver of conquest and supremacy.

There is little doubt that the USA still boasts the most advanced technology in the world. Therefore Nebraska's agriculture is booming. International agencies predict that oil production will soon surpass Saudi Arabia's. And there are so many startups and corporations working on non-fuel energy that sooner or later something will revolutionize the entire field.

The San Francisco Bay Area went from being a refuge for crazy artists to being the greatest technological hub in the history of the world (still improperly nicknamed "Silicon Valley" even if silicon is no longer the main economic driver and the "valley" really extends throughout the whole bay). Progress in robotics and automation in general is rapidly reverting the relationship with countries like China: it may soon be cheaper to manufacture in the USA than in China, which means that millions of jobs may move back to the USA (and thousands of jobs may be added by the robotic industry). Militarily, no country is even close to the arms that the USA can deploy in a few days (and not even to the drones that the USA is already using routinely).

When critics point at problems in the USA, they tend to point at problems that are not so crucial after all. Elementary and high-school education lags behind Scandinavia and Japan, but higher education is still the best in the world (Scandinavians and Japanese attend universities in the USA, not viceversa). Immigration policies are turning away and discouraging many of the best brains in the world, but the USA of 2013 does not need as many scientists and engineers as it did in 1913.

Its Nobel Prize winners are now mostly US-born. The real problems might be about the technologies that the USA has been reluctant to adopt. The USA lags behind in fast trains (this is a country that imploded when all airports were shut down following the 2001 terrorist attacks) and in Internet speed (this is quite embarrassing for the country that invented it). Whenever you get back to the USA after a trip to Asia, you feel you just entered a developing country.

However, the general outlook is optimistic: the academic and industrial research labs are producing an incredible amount of innovation compared with the rest of the world. The wave of offsourcing that started in the 1990s may be remembered as just a temporary expedient due to the fact that the industry of the USA is continuously looking for ways to produce more at lower costs and for a while (after the fall of communism) the way to produce more at lower costs was to exploit the industrial infrastructure and low labor costs of the former communist countries.

Rather than inevitabile, the rapid progress in countries like China may have been a mere accident. It won't be easy for those countries to continue growing independently of the "offsourcing" business. They might soon realize that their luck was closely tied to the industrial cycles of the USA just like seasons are due to the motion of the Earth around the Sun and autumn harvest can't quite be engineered at will.

piero scaruffi is an author, cultural historian and blogger who has written extensively about a wealth of topics, ranging from cognitive science to music.


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