As I see it, the world changed and Rome did not. As Americans, we still don’t know how to react to a changing world. America, not Rome, is too complacent.
Rome’s dominance merely faded as barbarians fleeing Attila crossed the Danube. Unlike Rome, America sought out foreign nations for its labor. In the short run, it might have saved costs, but in the long run we face two issues. First, at a certain point oil will reach a new high, affecting shipping costs. Secondly, and more importantly, we sold ourselves out.
The same people bemoaning the lack of American innovation and American pride are the same ones who saw cost advantages overseas and took them. Smart for business, and perhaps a reflection on tax policies, but still a hindrance to America in the long run because more companies in other countries eventually foster the ambitions of people living in those other countries.
If America wants to maintain its dominance as an economic power, it has done a poor job fostering ambition in its own country. Obama is right to talk about a Sputnik moment. Unfortunately, we don’t have one. Math and science are essential to our future, but until our culture instills that into our children, our future will consist of a few people offering exceptional financing and medical services, and the rest of the jobs will be gravy or baggage depending on your point of view.
A recent report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that real U.S. GDP by metropolitan area declined by 2.4 percent in 2009. Most of that decline, according to the BEA, comes from losses in the manufacturing area, which means we don’t make things anymore, unless you count a global recession.
But there’s more to the story of how America sat on its laurels: the one major unintended consequence of winning the Cold War meant more global competition.
Too many journalists cover the 1990s as some major phenomena of unimagined growth. Realistically, a fourth to a half of the world re-entered the global market as the Iron Curtain came crumbling down. As we celebrated the rise of democracies, we never really digested the implications: more global competition.
America, while innovative and competitive, never took nascent democracies of the post Cold War era as seriously as we should have. We took advantage of their tax codes, but never realized the long-term implications of moving business across the Pacific – namely, that even the upper middle class children of America now compete with an Indian upstart.
Competitively speaking, these represent marvelous developments, but for the wealth and future of America, it implies that we must study harder, work harder, and innovate harder.
Now that the Middle East, particularly Egypt, sets its eyes upon freedom, free markets, and democracy, we must take heed. We must account for their large and ambitious, but currently unemployed, youth. What will their democratic future mean for our economic future?
The landscape of competition will change drastically in the next 10 years, particularly in the Middle East. Just as Spanish and Chinese and Arabic are emerging as the next global languages, we, as everyday citizens, must begin to learn the culture of the Middle East if we want to continue to remain an economic and political powerhouse in the 21st century.