January 24, 2012

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Joel Kotkin says many trends could make the 21st century “America’s moment.” He thinks this can come about if we get better political leadership. More likely, we can perform if the government will leave us alone.

The vast majority of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, and, according to a 2011 Pew Survey, close to a majority feel that China has already surpassed the U.S. as an economic power.

These views echo those of the punditry, right and left, who see the U.S. on the road to inevitable decline.  Yet the reality is quite different. A confluence of largely unnoticed economic, demographic and political trends has put the U.S. in a far more favorable position than its rivals. Rather than the end of preeminence, America may well be entering  a renaissance.

Just survey the globe. The European Union’s prolonged crisis will likely end in further decline. Aging Japan has long passed its prime, its market share receding in everything from autos to high tech.  China’s impressive economic juggernaut has slowed down, and the Middle Kingdom faces increased social instability, environmental degradation and a creaky one-party dictatorship.

While the U.S. has its challenges, it is positioned to achieve a more solid long-term   trajectory than its European and Asian rivals. What it lacks, however, is a strong political leadership capable of seizing this opportunity.


Energy constitutes the biggest ace in the hole for the U.S. For almost half a century, an enormous fossil fuel bill that still accounts for 40% of the nation’s trade deficit has hampered economic growth. Now that situation is changing rapidly.

Due to vast new finds and improved technology to exploit them, the U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas and could emerge as the leading oil producer by 2017. Reserves of natural gas — a clean-burning fuel — are estimated at 100 years supply and could generate more than 1.5 million new jobs over the next two decades.

The U.S. agricultural sector is also booming, with exports reaching a record $135.5 billion in 2011. With global demand increasing, sustained growth  will continue across America’s fertile agricultural regions. …


As a juxtaposition to the upbeat piece from Kotkin, we have a story from the NY Times about manufacturing as it is done in China.

When Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February, each guest was asked to come with a question for the president.

But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

Apple has become one of the best-known, most admired and most imitated companies on earth, in part through an unrelenting mastery of global operations. Last year, it earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google.

However, what has vexed Mr. Obama as well as economists and policy makers is that Apple — and many of its high-technology peers — are not nearly as avid in creating American jobs as other famous companies were in their heydays.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas, a small fraction of the over 400,000 American workers at General Motors in the 1950s, or the hundreds of thousands at General Electric in the 1980s. Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States. Instead, they work for foreign companies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, at factories that almost all electronics designers rely upon to build their wares. …


After that from the Times, we need late night humor from Andrew Malcolm.

Letterman: I don’t know how many times Newt Gingrich’s been married–5, 6. But I know at the last wedding they had an on-deck circle.

Leno: John Edwards having heart surgery in February. While he’s under, they also hope to neuter him.

Fallon: President Obama needs no cash to get into Disney World. He just charges it to the China section in Epcot.

Letterman: So Burger King now delivering in New York City. You know, sometimes you just don’t have the energy to get dressed up and go out to dinner at BK. Now, if we can get the same deals on cigarettes and fireworks, we’re having a real conversation.

Conan: A California man was arrested for poisoning his wife’s Rice Krispies. He was charged with attempted murder & completely misunderstanding the term “Serial Killer.

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