Sunday, July 31, 2005

Fortune on globalization and US competitiveness

Nice article here. For those who don't recognize the cartoon reference, it's from an old comic book ad for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course, guaranteed to turn skinny weaklings into musclemen!

...Low-cost countries—not just China and India but also Mexico, Malaysia, Brazil, and others—are turning out large numbers of well-educated young people fully qualified to work in an information-based economy. China will produce about 3.3 million college graduates this year, India 3.1 million (all of them English-speaking), the U.S. just 1.3 million. In engineering, China’s graduates will number over 600,000, India’s 350,000, America’s only about 70,000.

...So the offshoring of any jobs will produce job seekers who will tend to push wages down even in industries in which outsourcing isn’t happening. Far more significantly, the mere threat of moving jobs offshore is enough to hold wages down—those growing armies of skilled workers around the world are increasing the labor supply in many occupations, and the immutable law of markets is that when supply goes up, prices come down. It has happened in all kinds of other markets—food, clothing, microchips, appliances. Why not in labor?

Some economists believe they see it happening already. They note that something extremely odd occurred in the U.S. economy last year: Average compensation, including pay and benefits, fell. That is a rare event; the last time it happened was 14 years ago. More important, it usually happens in or around recessions or when productivity is going nowhere. But last year wasn’t like that. Productivity rose. The economy grew. The unemployment rate was low and falling. Every indicator pointed to strong wage increases, but just the opposite happened. Now some of the nation’s most eminent economists, including professor Richard B. Freeman of Harvard and Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley, believe the supply of overseas workers in newly globalizing labor markets is holding U.S. pay down and will do so for years.

All those university graduates in China and India threaten U.S. living standards in another way. Paradoxically, it’s not because they’ll end up working for U.S. employers, but because some of them won’t, finding jobs instead with domestic companies in their own countries. That’s a problem for America if many of those graduates are top students in science and engineering.

You might wonder why we’re constantly reading about Chinese graduates in engineering and not in law, medicine, literature, or philosophy. Why this veneration of the pocket-protector set? Engineering is fine, but there’s more to life than technology, isn’t there? Obviously there is. The question—and for America and the West it’s a huge question—is whether there can be economic dominance without technology leadership.

...The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, a group of academic societies, high-tech companies, and industry associations, concludes in a recent report that "the United States still leads the world in research and discovery, but our advantage is rapidly eroding, and our global competitors may soon overtake us." Aggregate R&D spending by six fast-growing economies (China, Ireland, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) is on track to exceed U.S. spending in a few years. Industrial R&D continues to increase, but 71% of that spending is on development, not the kind of basic research that created the transistor and the laser. Federal funding of research in the physical sciences has been declining as a percentage of GDP for 30 years. The Council on Competitiveness, consisting of CEOs, university presidents, and labor leaders, wants federal research spending increased substantially, to 1% of GDP—about $110 billion a year.

1 comment:

Zulka Sunderland said...

Given currency manipulation, totalitarian worker bee cultures may produce at high rates, but they don't innovate. They don't invent. It's not in the dna for highly educated workers to take any chances whatsoever, to go against any perceived wisdom. Culturally there's a much greater chance of America producing the new millenium versions of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Dennis Ritchie, Sergey Brin etc. than either China or India.

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