The precarious state of America's economic future, courtesy China, seems to rank only behind, and perhaps not behind, terrorism on people's frights list. China is a clear economic "game-changer," no doubt about it. And God knows, I've beaten on American schools and corporations alike for their sluggish response to the need for revolutionary change.
But I did spend 30 years in Silicon Valley, home to the IS/IT mega-revolution. And I now have a home in Boston, home to (along with California et al.) the life sciences revolution. Announcement: We're doing pretty damned okay, and losing scant ground on the truly new, game-changer industries. For example, the Boston Globe on November 28 had an Op-ed piece on nanotechnology. It's already a multi-billion industry, and the quoted projection for 2014 is the emergence of a $2,600,000,000,000 ($2.6 TRILLION) industry. And the leader, by a country mile: the U.S.A.
Will China, Korea and others challenge us here? Of course! We'll doubtless give ground (hey, we're virtually it right now), but (1) the total pie will keep growing and (2) by 2014 there will doubtless (sure as shit) be new nanotech-like mega-industries on the drawing boards, and I'd not bet a farthing against the U.S. as lead pony.
Many lament (correctly, in the main) our declining share of engineering graduates and science majors. True enough, but I contend there is (still, for the foreseeable future) a Magic American Potion of: Lotsa smart, motivated people + New immigrant blood (never discount this) + Incredible research universities (and Gov't R&D infrastructure) + A generic/genetic entrepreneurial "instinct" to die for (including an almost unique American desire to make-a-ton before 40) + Wide and deep financial entrepreneurship (VCs, Angels, etc, etc) to die for + A deep-seated competitive (genetic again) urge to be/stay #1 + A generic capitalist "spirit" 300 years in the making and nurturing + Genetic openness (called "freedom" and "democracy" in the U.S.A. and the West in general) + Etc. (Or some such.)
Do I think China can be "stopped"? Of course not, save for the "democracy-openness problem" (major). Do I think Kmart and GM can be resurrected? Never. Do I expect as many Googles-Amgens in the future as in the past? Much as I'm fearful of going way out on a limb, I will anyway: Count on it!
(The argument above is a good accompaniment to the KURZWEIL Cool Friend interview. While Mr K may be wrong in the particulars, there's little doubt that a parade of Extreme Makeovers is our lot. Those ready to lead/pounce upon such Makeovers will stay atop the heap. An open, entrepreneurial society with a propensity for risktaking, and an infrastructure to support it, are as well positioned as possible. Frankly, I think the raw quantity of engineering degrees produced is pretty close to irrelevant.)