An excerpt from Thomas Friedman’s book “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century” appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine. The premise is that the information age has truly arrived and now people all over the world can compete on equal terms. Steve Hsu summarizes the idea in his blog. The tone of Friedman’s excerpt and Hsu’s posts is that the Chinese, the Indians, and the Russians are coming and we better get ready for the new competition. America’s dominance over the world is beginning to decline and if we don’t recognize it now our standard of living will fall with it as our wealth starts to diffuse across the globe.
I certainly believe this is happening and it is unavoidable. Improving our educational system or motivating our citizens won’t solve the real problem and that is the US only constitutes five percent of the world’s population and if life were fair, it should have only five percent of the wealth. Even given that life is not fair, having only five percent of the world’s population means that we only have five percent of the brightest, most innovative, and most energetic people to create the wealth for the future. Eventually, things will equalize. It’s a battle we just can’t win.
So what should we do? One solution is to bring the rest of the world up to our economic level. Unfortunately, I don’t think a world where everyone lives like an American is sustainable. See my estimate of energy use from a previous post. A possible scenario is that as the world catches up and begins to compete for scarcer and scarcer resources, the pecking order will be sorted out through military means. I truly hope we are sane enough to avoid that fate. My deluded, quasi-utopian vision, is that we all scale back and share. The pessimistic nihilist in me says that won’t happen in my lifetime.