- By Nathan
That’s Arnold Schwarzenegger on his very first visit to New York in 1968. It’s the face of a recent immigrant to the U.S. - one who sees nothing but unlimited possibilities before him…and somebody who fully explored those possibilities as he made the transition from professional athlete, to movie star, to best-selling author, to Governor of California - the eighth largest economy in the world.
This face is symbolic of the "American Dream"; the potential that America used to hold. Sure, it's still attainable, but so many things seem different now.
A Changing World
By now, most of us are aware that China’s economy has surpassed that of the U.S. Most recently, the “Father of Singapore”, Lee Kuan Yew passed away, and my Facebook news feed has been completely saturated with praise for both him and the country of Singapore. Did you know that last year Singapore officially became the most expensive country in the world? Even China has taken notes as this tiny country has risen to prominence.
It’s hard to imagine, because Singapore pulled this off in the span of just 50 years. So what’s the point of all this?
The point is yes, America is a great country, but it seems like Asia is leaving us in the dust.
A month ago I was in Cebu City, Philippines. I met a young American guy who told me that he now lives in Asia. When asked why, he looked at me as if it was a no-brainer. His answer was straight to the point:
“Asia is the future.”
I have another American friend who speaks fluent Mandarin and has made a fortune doing business in China.
Myself, I have spent the last few years traveling all over India and SE Asia. With this, of course, has come some interesting perspective on the world…but also on my own country, the U.S. I’m particularly proud of our innovative and pioneering spirit, because I feel that’s what sets us apart more than any other country in the world.
Improving On Our Success
Yes, in the past, that innovation defined us and propelled us to success…but Asia has been taking notes during our time in the spotlight, and it has carefully monitored what works and what doesn’t. Among other things, Asia (and by that I mostly mean Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and increasingly, China) has mastered the art of making our innovations cheaper and more accessible. Couple that with massive workforces (that, in some countries like the Philippines, Americans would describe as “paid slave labor”), and you see why Asia is running circles around us. It’s not just Asia, either. Dubai is another good example.
In a throwback to ancient Rome, there are modern-day empires being built on the backs of armies of barely-paid workers.
What’s hard for Americans to understand is this: To these workers, any money is better than no money. They are happy to have any job.
These countries don’t always have the same concepts of equality and “fair” business practices...and they certainly haven’t always had the same opportunities. They may be operating from a
history of poverty. Look at the Philippines. Downtown Makati in Metro Manila is exploding with growth. I came back after just one year and didn’t even recognize the
Yes, in the Philippines, shiny new skyscrapers are being built at an almost unimaginable rate. We’re talking about a country about 2% of the size of the U.S., but with 33% of the population. It is easy to exploit the workforce in overpopulated countries like this, but it’s ironic, because in many cases, the workers don’t even feel exploited! Again, they are just happy to be working.
So how are we, a country which has worked so hard to fight for the rights of all workers (and in turn, made it prohibitively expensive to create and run businesses) to compete with
These are difficult questions to ask, but of course, they are worth asking. The U.S. may not be perfect, but when I look at the big picture in terms of global-leadership, it still seems to be the best viable option the world currently has.
America, it might be time to face the music. Perhaps other countries are no longer learning from us. Perhaps it’s time for us to start learning from them.
I only hope we won’t be too proud or arrogant to listen.
Follow along with me as I wander and write...