Analysis // Ben FrankelAnalysis // Ben Frankel: China is new driver of world's innovation, economy

Published 28 January 2008

China is becoming the driver of the world’s science, technology, and economy; the U.S.’s persistent failure to encourage and support the training of scientists and engineers in sufficient numbers, at the same time that post-9/11 immigration barriers prevent non-American scientists and engineers from filling the gap, has caused the United States to fall further behind China; if the EU were considered one entity instead of 27 separate countries, it, too, would surpass the United States

A visitor from Mars who would listen to the debates taking palce in the United States about education would not take long to become persuaded that this is a country bent on hastening its own decline. School districts are embroiled in debates about whether creationsim is of equal scientific standing to the theory of evolution; people on the right want to abolish the Department of Education and the national standards it sets and leave all education decisions to local boards (which could then decide to replace the teaching of evolution with that of creationsim); people on the left oppose any weakening of the suffocating control of teachers unions and at the same time that they oppose school vouchers which would allow students from low-income families to escape failing public schools. There is this, too: The growing anti-immigration sentiments in the United States — only heightened by the demagogery which typically accompanies the political season — have casued a steady decline in the number of foreign scientists and engineers who come to the United States for work and research. Since U.S. universities no longer produce enough science and engineering majors to meet the needs of the U.S. economy, the U.S. ability to maintain its relative position vis-a-vis rising powers such as China has been hampered further. The confluence of these trends — the decline in the number of American students who major in science and mathematics; the decline in the number of engineers graduating from American universities; and the decline in the number of foreign scientists and engineers who are allowed into the United States — has contributed, and is continuing to contribute, to the weakening of the U.S. global position in science and technology. The result: The steady rise of China as the preminent science and technology power in the world continues unabated, accompanied by a steady decline in the U.S. realtive position in these fields. These trends may be inexorable, with all their dire implications for U.S. national security and welfare.

If you have nothing to do this weekend and you want to read a report which will depress you to no end, you should read the “High Tech Indicators

Technology-based Competitiveness of 33 Nations 2007 Report” from Georgia Tech. The study’s indicators predict that China will soon pass the United States in the critical ability to develop basic science and technology, turn those developments into products and services — and then market them to the world. China is often seen as just a low-cost producer of manufactured goods, but the new High Tech Indicators study done by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology clearly shows that the Asian powerhouse has much bigger aspirations. “For the first time in nearly a century, we see leadership in basic research and the economic ability to pursue the benefits of that research — to create and market products based on research