Thursday, January 08, 2004

Exec's warn of failed US economic modernization effort,

The WaPo reports that corporate executives, usually not the foremost critics of globalization, are warning that the US could lose its technological edge against China, Russi, India, and other developing countries. They are quickly catching up in this category. In the history of nations, it is generally government that has led the building of critical infrastructure and driving economic/technological modernization. Some examples?

The prize of Queen Anne was given out for the solution to the Longitude problem. It was necessary for navigating the oceans. Through sighting on the stars, it was possible for shipping fleets to determine latitude or the north-south position on maps. However, it was impossible to determine reliably or the east-west placement with any precision. Before the British government of Queen Anne offered the prize, the best method known was to drag trailing bobs behind the ship and by how fast they played out calculate the velocity and therefore general distance traveled. The errors in the method could often lead ships to smash themselves on shoals or rocky shores however because they thought they were someplace that was further east or west than they actually were. It was eventually a clockmaker ironically, who through developing ingenious clocks whose mechanical accuracy was not affected by their parts being tossed about onboard a ship that allowed the longitude problem to be solved by comparing the time set on the clock to observed high noon of the sun straight above the ship.

Similarly Railroads were heavily promoted by government intervention and laws that facilitated gaining crucial landspots and gave subsidies for building them. The railroads completely changed the rules on business shipping and casual travel. Later on in the early twentieth century, Rural Electrification built an infrastructure that allowed America to automate their households and businesses. The development of Airplanes the Wright brothers was specifically for military use by the American army corps. Later after the war it would revolutionize shipping and travel again. The invention of Radar was pioneered by the British government to help the RAF mobilize against German air-raids. In the twentieth century it would be government scientists working for the Defense Department that would create the Internet a vast communications network that allowed the Information Economy to come of age.

Not all innovation or forward developments are driven by government planning of course. But in the history of human progress it has often been the government that has coordinated and encouraged large infrastructure projects even when individuals or private companies have taken the initiative in creating the technology and science. Since America's might and prosperity depends heavily upon its leading dominance in technology and science, the structural economic shift taking place can only be managed by a government willing to look at the long run and take into account the big picture. We need to lay the ground-work today for the future of tomorrow.

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