Trends of 21st century

SL Lee is respectable host of Asiawind forum. He is critical of US and the direction it is heading to.




Author: SL Lee 
Date:   01-06-08 11:43

Some have proposed to bring home the American factories. Since American economy is 1/3 of the world’s economy, it is important that it doesn’t fail or allowed to fail. With the natural resources and human resource of US, there should be a greater contribution to the world. It is easy to call for a returning of American factories. To implement it is another question.
If free enterprise, free competition, free trade and globalization are truly the preferred US economic policy, the following should be noted.

1. Imbalanced sectors of industry – Survival and prosperity of an independent nation relies on balancing the different sectors of industry : primary (utilization of natural resources), secondary (manufacturing), tertiary (service), and quaternary ( entertainment). The American industries are now mostly focused on tertiary and quaternary industries. The primary and secondary industries are left to offshore OEM or cheap immigrant labor. In the end, this imbalance will hold US hostage of loss of capability and trade deficit. It takes generations to build the capability of the primary and secondary industries, which are the basis for US strength in the 20th century. Moving down from primary to quaternary industries, the need/essentiality factor decreases and want/luxury factor increases. Under adverse global situations (e.g. global warming and the subsequent disasters), the priority will shift to primary. This can be a road of no return if the emphasis continues on quaternary industry. Who has the mood and money to watch Michael Jackson in the Superdome after Katrina?

2. Construction vs destruction – The infrastructure of US is mostly built 50-70 years ago. Periodic renewal has not caught up with wear and tear. The instant profit and non-accountability of war industry redirects resources to destructive weaponry manufacturing from infrastructure construction. A reversal has to be implemented to sustain the domestic infrastructure. Job gains in infrastructure building could more than compensate for the unemployment shock by military redeployment.

3. Long-term vs short-term management – The quarterly profit report and 4-year term presidency leave a short political/management memory and relearning of repeated mistakes. All efforts are channeled into short-term window-dressing "results" rather than long-term benefit. Unless there is more built-in continuity for the corporations and governments for long-term macroscopic management, US will remain in a sine curve mode.

4. Intellectual capability vs physical capability – As a result of emphasis on quaternary industry, students have been encouraged to participate in physical sports rather than intellectual activities. Those who can run, jump, hit faster are rewarded handsomely while those with brains are ignored for academic contributions. The misdirected reward system breeds generations of muscular strength rather than cerebral strength. The elite selection process creates a whole class of illiterate celebrity dropouts.

5. Kindness ("De", virtue) vs force – Kindness and force are rewarded with the same, like actions and reactions. Which do we prefer? Sunzi’s primary advice is to win the mind, not the fortress.

6. Monoculture vs multiculture – The language barrier between the East and the West have been broken by the internet and transportation. Free traveling and exchange of ideas allow cross cultural learning. Those who are adamant in holding on to one religion, one culture, one race will eventually be won over by those who are receptive to the best of world cultures. The gradual shift of demographics and inter-racial marriage will eventually minimize cultural and racial differences. America is going through a process China went through in the last 2000 years.

7. Direct vs indirect service – The middleman service is struggling to survive, but it will finally be minimized. The value created by cutting doctoral service fee is now pocketed by insurance and HMO industry. Direct access to electronic service and information will reduce the need for brokers. How many are still screaming on the floor and passing paper slips in the stock market exchanges? Just see how quiet the Hong Kong stock exchange operates. These are the victims of emphasis on tertiary industries. While tertiary industry agents are necessary, an excess is costly to the consumers. Proper allocation of their manpower of the middleman class is necessary to avoid social instability.

8. Science vs superstition – progressive research has led to the bankruptcy of superstitions reminiscent of primitive understanding of nature of the ancient time. Facts and reasoning will eventually replace fairy tales. Galileo and Darwin finally led to and find support in space traveling and molecular genetics. Human discovery is a never-ending journey to dispel ignorance and stupidity.

9. Democracy vs pseudo-democracy – the abandonment of democracy is clear in many phenomena: increasing veto power by the president, concentration of media ownership, blackbox voting, exclusion of different voices (Recently, Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have been kept out from the debates by the Republican party and Democratic arty respectively), and the heavy reliance on campaign funding which allows monetary control of the democratic process by large corporations. It is ironic that China is undergoing democratization while US as a leader and advocate in democracy is reversing the process.

It is easier said than done to call for the return of American industries home. China is learning something from US (adopting market economy and planned economy, democratization starting at local voting, etc). Is US learning from China?

The dynasties in China last roughly 300 years (~10 generations) of relative stability with an intermission of about 50 -70 turbulent years of transition (~two generations). The succession of world powers since 1500s – Portugal, Spain, Holland, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and US has lasted till now about 500 years. There is not one day of true peace on this earth for all our history. What kind of lessons have we humans learned? Where are we going?


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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