The Hollowing Out of Destiny

There are a few things that really worry me, and the decline of training and education — which is leading to a drop in technical skills — is right at the top. Let me tell you why.

After World War II, the U.S. was the preeminent economic and military power by default. We were at the right place at the right time with the right people and the right culture. Our factories hadn’t been bombed, our military-industrial complex was bustling and the world was calling. What an amazing time it was. People from all over the world came to the United States for undergraduate and graduate educations and often stayed to partake in the wealth and betterment of life. It was a wonderful phase, but the world has moved on to new things.

Like so many civilizations before, the United States has entered an era of maturity and decline. Today it is without a doubt the top military power on the planet through the use of force-multiplier technology. The challenge is that the economic base in the United States needed to support that technology is entering a fading grey twilight. Our advancements are based on inertia rather than design.

The industrial era was accompanied by huge factories and labor economies. With electronics came miniaturization and digital logic, with a decreasing emphasis in capital intensity save for certain industries. Now we are entering into the world of nanotech and quantum physics.

We have shifted from empires of steel to empires of the mind. We have shifted from economies of scale to economies of knowledge. In many areas, the creators of knowledge will never produce anything physical. Either their output will be produced by someone else or what is created will never take a physical form other than to be stored in vast knowledge repositories governed not by states but by corporations.

If we think in terms of a simple two-dimensional model comparing knowledge intensity to societal benefits, we can hypothesize about potential outcomes.

The “Purpose Driven” high-value knowledge-intensive economies will be the ones that have a concerted effort between government and corporations to develop an exceptionally educated citizenry. As a result, they will have the necessary mix of persistent and transient skills to excel. This is something that happens not in months, but in years or even decades.

Talking about shaping corporate culture is one thing; here we are talking about shifting a nation’s culture. The prize will go to the nations and corporations who recognize the value of education, basic research and develop the necessary fertile environment for innovation and capitalism. The societal benefits will be evidenced by higher standards of living, education and a sustainable military advantage.