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Remaking America for New Global Realities

Basil Enwegbara

One of the reasons the British lost economic power to the United States and Germany beginning in the 1860s was because the British super-rich were buying the most expensive country homes and living lavish lifestyles. Their American entrepreneurial counterparts -- Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and others -- were directing great personal wealth to building America’s knowledge society through the education of the workforce.

These American business gurus understood that it was by equipping the workforce with the training it deserves that they would grow their businesses and compete against Britain. German diplomat Wilhelm von Humboldt also understood the power of scientific and engineering education and training, establishing the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1809 as the world’s premier research university. This single decision propelled Germany along with the United States into leading the world in economic and military power. The failure to reverse the trend resulted not only in the melting of the British industrial powerhouse overnight, but also sapped its global strength. The grounding of the British imperial machine was painfully humiliating for those in charge.

Is America today heading in the same historical direction? Or can America wake up and return to the envied path that it followed throughout the 20th century? But how can it do so without investing in the scientific and engineering training of citizens? And how can it do so if most of its elementary and high schools lack the science and math preparation necessary? What about the growing trend of locking up minority youths in prison, indirectly depriving them of the educational training they require to become responsible citizens in the 21st century?

As babyboomers retire and the nation ages, America will begin to depend on foreign scientists and engineers. To what extent can it depend on outside help and still lead the world economically and militarily, especially with China and India fast encroaching? Under the circumstances, America cannot afford the luxury of keeping its minority citizens from participating in its scientific workforce.

History has taught us that no nation ever survives by placing its hope on foreigners. The British failed to use the Indians to fight their imperial wars in Asia. Rome was unable to effectively use foreigners under its empire for its defense. And America cannot look forward to the future without massively investing in its own citizens.

There is no amount of China and India bashing that can override global realities. The truth is that the global marketplace is no one’s friend. If American companies refrain from investing in China or India, the Japanese and European companies will quickly fill in the gap. If Americans fail to import from China or India, the consequences to America will not only be the abandonment of the U.S. market, but probably also the formation of an Asian economic block as an alternative market. That could be followed by a new Asian currency zone to replace the dollar as the international currency. Also, it could happen that countries in the Asian and European economic zones begin to price oil in currencies different from the dollar.

Such an economic battle will never be to America’s long-term benefit. America will do better if it empowers its citizens, particularly the minorities who have not been given the full opportunities they deserve in education. It boils down to giving great private research universities like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard more financial support to remain in the forefront of education and research while also increasing the number of minorities trained in science and engineering. Imagine what the American sports world or music industry would be like today without African-Americans. There is no doubt that if we give the best opportunities to disadvantaged kids, a new dynamism will arise in America’s halls of academe.

At the same time, genuine interest in science and math can only be possible if pre-university schools are better equipped by giving students the training they require. That also will mean mass investment by giving more incentives to math and science teachers. American dollars will be better spent in preparing future leaders than in building military power, which is becoming obsolete as most countries now discover the battle of this century will no longer be fought on the fields of war but in the trade and economic markets. America must face the new realities.