Our politicians love to talk about Great America. We are the first democracy in the world. “The shining city on the hill.” We are the greatest economic power in the world. We can all agree with our politicians – Greater America should be part of the national dialogue.
But politicians will not say that America is subject to the same great historical and economic forces as any other country. History proves that the time when America may have been the world’s industrial superpower has passed.
The empire of Great Britain in the nineteenth century was based in part on its industrial strength. The textile industry in the country flourished, causing a need for workers, who flocked to the cities in search of work.
England then became a huge exporter, having the highest wages in the world at the time. As wages rose, British industry invested in new technology, which reduced labor costs, further accelerating the Industrial Revolution and Great Britain’s dominance of world trade.
People assumed that England deserved this hegemony. There was something unique in English culture. They were a superior people.
Then, after the Civil War, America entered its own industrial revolution, using the new technology initially developed by Great Britain but using cheap American labor. As the world entered the new century in 1900, America grew, seemingly out of nowhere, to produce half of the world’s total manufacturing. England refocused on manufacturing ‘higher value added’ products.
America’s growth in manufacturing created huge investments in technology and capital formation. People flock to the cities. People assumed that America deserved this hegemony. There was something unique in American culture. The Americans and their work ethic were superior.
Then, after World War II, a new player appeared. Japan entered its industrial revolution, initially borrowing ideas and technology from all over the world. Cheap labor allowed Japan to gradually dominate industrialization and create an export-led force. People in America and Great Britain complained of unfair competition.
People in Japan assumed that Japan deserved this hegemony. There was something unique in Japanese culture. They worked 60 hours a week and were superior people.
Until China started to climb. Using technology and borrowed ideas, combined with cheap and painstaking labor, China has become a manufacturing powerhouse. People flock to the cities. Today, China’s export-oriented economy dominates global trade. Great Britain, the United States, and Japan focus on higher value-added manufacturing.
People in China assume that China qualifies for this hegemony. There is something unique in Chinese culture. They are superior people. They work harder than the lazy British, Americans and Japanese.
Nobody knows when the Chinese will take their place with Great Britain, the United States, and Japan when a new country rises to dominate the world of low-cost, low-wage manufacturing. We only know it will happen.
American politicians who promise to return America to worldwide industrial dominance are ignoring the great historical and economic forces at work. It is unlikely that we will continually return to the world’s manufacturing superpower and the 3% annual economic growth they promise us.
Yes, we are an exceptional country, but history proves that our future economic success is not guaranteed. What should our schools teach and what should our government’s policies be in response to the forces of history and the global economy?
Why can’t we get our politicians to openly discuss these great economic challenges and propose solutions for our country to embrace – allowing our country to compete – before it is too late?
Share your thoughts: [email protected]