Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is America's Global Leadership Position Threatened?

Fareed Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International, and a regular foreign affairs correspondent at Newsweek. He's also a Harvard-trained political scientist, a former managing editor at Foreign Affairs, and an author of important books in international relations and comparative politics. Zakaria's one of the major reasons that Newsweek publishes some of the most important articles on foreign policy among any of the weekly national and international newsmagazines.

This past week, Zakaria published the lead article in a Newsweek special on the global leadership challenge. Entitled "How Long Will America Lead the World?", the article is an important journalistic update to recurring debates about the stability of America's preponderant global position. Zakaria notes that the U.S. faces a number of competitive leadership challenges in the areas of science, technology, and education, but overall America's global leadership position remains both robust and relatively secure:

Over the past 20 years, America's growth rate has averaged just over 3 percent, a full percentage point higher than that of Germany and France. (Japan averaged 2.3 percent over the same period.) Productivity growth, the elixir of modern economics, has been over 2.5 percent for a decade now, again a full percentage point higher than the European average. In 1980, the United States made up 22 percent of world output; today that has risen to 29 percent. The U.S. is currently ranked the second most competitive economy in the world (by the World Economic Forum), and is first in technology and innovation, first in technological readiness, first in company spending for research and technology and first in the quality of its research institutions. China does not come within 30 countries of the U.S. on any of these points, and India breaks the top 10 on only one count: the availability of scientists and engineers. In virtually every sector that advanced industrial countries participate in, U.S. firms lead the world in productivity and profits.
Zakaria also notes that the American university system is the world's best; the U.S. economy demonstrates tremendous technological flexibility and adaptation; and that American demographic trends, particularly high rates of immigration, indicate comparative advantages for the U.S. relative to countries like Germany and Japan, as well as China. Zakaria notes further:

The United States' share of the global economy has been remarkably steady through wars, depressions and a slew of rising powers. It was 32 percent in 1913, 26 percent in 1960, 22 percent in 1980 and 27 percent in 2000. With the brief exception of the late 1940s and 1950s—when the rest of the industrialized world had been destroyed—the United States has taken up about a quarter of world output for about 120 years and is likely to stay in roughly the same position for the next few decades if it can adapt to the current challenges it faces as well as it adapted to those in the past.
The italics in the last sentence are in the original. Zakaria points out that the U.S. faces some significant problems, not the least of which is the simple phenomenon of international catch-up. As he indicates, faster growing economies such as China and India far outpace the U.S. in the production of engineers and scientists. Not just that, though: American communications infrastructure is average internationally, and, as noted, the U.S. public school system is dsyfunctional for many families. Still, as Zakaria rightly points out, America is a dynamic nation, and it will likely be decades before another global challenger supplants America's hegemonic international leadership position.

No comments: