So I was just talking to my friends David and Jennie Orr about the US economy, and I asked what the US was number one at anymore. What does the US export to the rest of the world? What do we sell more of to other countries than we buy from other countries? What does the US make that the rest of the world wants? I guess that's one thing that has been good about Obama's speeches, is that he realizes that the new global economy is not the same as the old one, and that the US could quite possibly get left in the dust, which is why he is focused on education that is designed to be able to compete in the global economy.
Here's how I see it: We will not be able to compete in traditional manufacturing industries on a global level anymore at all. There are just too many other places where it's cheaper to get most things made. If the natural resources can be found near China or the necessary parts can be shipped cheaply to China, they're going to get those jobs. You cannot compete with a billion people willing to work for very low wages. Sad, but true. Or is it?
With the spread of globalization, it's just fundamentally not the same game. Yes, lots of people are out of jobs as a result of this change, but the global corporate economy has made an irreversible change, it's not really going to come back. Nobody thinks that the US is going to return to kick butt as an auto manufacturer (at least, in the traditional, gas-powered sense), yet people talk about keeping jobs in the United States, but the truth is that the jobs that have left will not come back, and people had better have a pretty good idea of what sorts of jobs can be made that have staying power here at home. And that's where I think B.O. (whoa, his initials are B.O.!) gets it right, is that if the US doesn't get cracking in the New Energy industry, the post-oil industry, whatever you want to call it, we will get left sorely behind.
But hey, for the sake of a pep talk, let's identify what game we DO still have.
So in what areas does the US still kick butt?
- Basketball. We are still pretty good at this. And maybe baseball too. Maybe.
- Rappers. We've still got some good ones, I guess. But the rest of the world is gaining on us. To expand this idea, I guess you could say that general popular culture is a major export. Musicians, writers, some artists, some academics, and some other peddlers in the idea trade still have some impact, but that is starting to change as well.
- Movies. Regardless of their quality, we make a lot of movies. And people watch them, even in other countries.
- Computer operating systems. We've got Microsoft. Like it or not, it's still on most of the world's computers. But aside from software, which is a relatively fluid idea that can be copyrighted and sold (or more likely, copied) throughout the world, the real problem is that a large portion of the hardware is not produced here in the US. We've got Apple, with their iPods, and their gain in the personal computer market, but pretty much nothing that they design is made in the US. It all says "designed in California" but it is certainly made in China, bringing a considerable amount of money to the top people at Apple, but providing jobs for a few of the billion people in China. Contributes to the trade defecit, what else is new.
- Science. Sort of. We don't even have a large hadron collider though.
- Space program. I guess, but I mean, even China has one now.
- Oh, I got one: Broadway musicals. But that's kind of like American football, ya know. It really only exists here.
- The medical and pharmaceutical industries. Sure, we have some good stuff, but not everyone can use them.
- Two words: Will Smith.
- Another two: Mariah Carey.
- This sort of goes with exporting culture, but I also think we export our version of the English language. But, we can't make nay money off of this because people get on Napster or Friendster or whatever and download and steal it, for free! We have GOT to copyright our accent or something.
- Oh, how could I forget: Fast food! And other junky snacks.
- Making cars. Just kidding.
- Google. We've got Google. Those colorful, rollerblading, Segway-riding, free-delicious-food-eating brainiac billionaires over in CA. Let's hope they don't relocate. Or more importantly, let's hope California doesn't declare independence from the rest of the US. So let's say this:
- We have California (for the time being). What's to keep them from succeeding from the rest of the US and taking Schwartzeneggar as their president? I mean, seriously. If you think about it, the rest of the US (with the possible exception of New York, maybe Chicago) is kind of dragging California down. California's political and economicl ideology is way more progressive than the rest of the US, and frankly, I think they might be getting sick of us. Is it a surprise that it says "Designed in California. Assembled in China" on the back of your iPod? Designed in California, not the United States. They're just getting a head start on the succession.
- So more generally, we have the Silicon Valley and everything associated with it. Again, while ideas are exported throughout the world, the hardware that acts as a platform for these ideas is increasingly manufactured elsewhere.
- I think we still make microchips here, maybe?
- Weapons. Bombs. Airplanes. When it comes to military spending, we are number one. Yikes.
- We can't even win at competetive eating anymore.
- We're good at making prisons. And TV shows about hunks who break out of them!