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ISSUE 118 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/6/2005

America’s status in jeopardy

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, May 6, 2005

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has been without equal in terms of power and influence. As the world’s lone superpower, the United States now occupies a position of might analogous only to the ancient Roman Empire at its peak, straddling the world like a military and economic colossus.

Given the existence of international organizations like the United Nations and North-Atlantic Trade Organization, the United States seems destined to retain its status as world hegemon for decades to come, safely leading a mostly peaceful world.

Fourteen years into its reign as the sole superpower of the world, the United States is beginning to show signs of weakness in what was once deemed an insurmountable advantage over its various competitors. The new battle we’re in isn’t being fought with words or bullets. If this were the case, the United States would surely be able to muster its military strength to equal that of any other nation.

Instead, our’s is a war of attrition being played out in high schools and universities across the nation, a new kind of “Cold War” that those in the United States government will eventually have to accept as equal in importance to our 40-year struggle with the Soviets. This new war is one of intellectual and economic dominance and it’s a war that we are losing.

While the United States has maintained its position as having arguably the greatest economy in the world since World War II, countries like Japan, China, South Korea and India are all nipping at its heels. This isn’t to say that these nations are challenging America as economic top dog – every country listed above is still more than a decade behind the United States in terms of economic development. The truly worrying statistic is the rate at which, the aforementioned countries’ economies are growing and the quality of the workers they are producing.

In other words, it’s not these nations’ current economic power, but their staggering growth which threatens American dominance. In an interconnected world which is getting smaller every day, the United States has gone from being the unquestioned leader to the proverbial pace car.

Doubts immediately follow the synthesis of such information. It’s hard not to question how the United States could have fallen behind so fast, and to wonder if such claims are anything more than hyperbole intended to further an agenda.

The reality is that the United States is no longer the only nation where the “best-of-the-best” go to find success. The new global market created by the Internet has made it possible for the brightest students from other countries to stay where they are, bolstering their own economies where their talent once supported ours. The result is a world where “outsourcing” means something to every American and global competition has trickled down to the individual level.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all of this is the apparent apathetic attitude that the U.S. Government has taken towards these valid and proven concerns. Buried deep within the 3,000-page budget passed by Congress this January, one finds the National Science Foundation’s funding has been quietly cut yet again, this time by over 100 million dollars.

As if continually hamstringing an organization that seeks to keep American students among the most scientifically competent isn’t bad enough. Congress still can’t agree on a plan to make broadband Internet access part of a new national “info-structure,” a fact which has both limited our quality of life and the average American’s ability to compete in the global market. Perhaps the most telling statistic is the marked fall of American Internet connectivity and capability. In 2001, the United States was the most wired country in the world, an estimated two years ahead of Japan in terms of broadband distribution and access. Today, we are 14th, and falling further behind every day.

Unfortunately, we have only ourselves to blame for the gradual decline in American economic and intellectual excellence. Bill Gates put it best when he addressed a summit meeting of our nation’s governors, stating, “Our high schools were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.”

Until Congress starts to take seriously the threat that a lack of knowledge and competence in the field of information technologies poses to our nation’s economic supremacy, the situation will only get worse. Simply put, the threatened economy isn’t a result of the intrinsic nature of the American worker, it’s the fault of an education policy that denies them the tools they need to succeed, both in the new century and the new global economy.

Staff writer Byron Vierk is a senior from Lincoln, Neb. He majors in English and history.

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