Archive for the 'Globalism' Category

14
Jan
11

A slap on the side of the head

I’ve said before I’m grateful to Sputnik and the USSR for enabling me to get a good education back in the ’50s and ’60s. The US taxpayers were generous to education during that time mainly, it seems to me, because we were scared as hell the Soviets were going to surpass us.

Perhaps something similar is happening again. This time it’s the Chinese. All of a sudden they seem like the 900 lb. gorilla in the room. Back last December the results of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of it’s international standardized education program (PISA) comparing 2009 test scores on math, reading, and science for 15-year-olds in 65 countries. The top four aggregate scores were, in order, Shanahai-China, Finland, Hong Kong-China and Singapore. The US teens in 24th place in math, 17th in reading and 23rd in science. The US students ranked down in the pack with many European countries.

That results have raised alarm in some quarters.

“We have to see this as a wake-up call,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview on Monday.

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

Well, in the US a sense of crisis seems to be needed to get any action on social issues. So perhaps another Chinese surprise–the quite visible test flight of a stealth fighter just as US Secretary of Defense Gates landed for a visit–will add the the sense of urgency.

Maybe it’s a question of whose “exceptionalism” will win. The US has proclaimed it’s exceptionalim for decades. Scholars say the Chinese have a sense of cultural exceptionalim that goes back a couple of millennia. So when is the chest thumping of exceptionalism a confidence-builder, and when is it a pair of foggy, rose-colored glasses that obscure a society’s perception of the capabilities of other people?

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26
Dec
10

Jobs for 2011 and beyond

I retired a year ago, but I feel f or the people who aren’t working because their job was shot out from under them one way or another. So I was interested in this data from oDesk about online jobs in 2011. They predict:

  • Online work will continue to double year-over-year, while local employment will not rebound to pre-recession levels.
  • In the next year, more than 500,000 employers will tap cloud-based workforces for the first time, including 25% of the Fortune 500.
  • The number of people looking to online work as the primary or sole source of their income will double over 2011.
  • Hiring of online workers by non-U.S. companies will explode in 2011. Proportionally, U.S. spending in this area will grow more slowly next year, and will represent 65% of the total spent on online work.

The top 10 categories of job in demand include:

  1. Web programming
  2. Web design
  3. Blog and article writing
  4. Data entry
  5. Graphic design
  6. Search engine optimization
  7. Other web development
  8. Website content
  9. Mobile apps
  10. Web research

The top 10 skills needed include:

  1. PHP
  2. HTML
  3. English
  4. WordPress
  5. Photoshop
  6. CSS
  7. SEO
  8. MySQL
  9. Writing
  10. MS Excel

I’d make two points: 1) a lot of these are not strictly IT jobs and some of the skills are really generic (writing, English!), and, 2) the online access to jobs is really increasing. So no matter what your job these days, you need to develop and keep online skills. This will become more the case in the near future. I feel sorry for some of my former colleagues who dismissed web activity as “that stuff my kids know” and now are out of work in their 50s.

With the economy and politics forcing the workforce to put together longer and longer careers, it’s absolutely necessary to plan to keep your skills, cultural knowledge and attitudes sharp for 50 years, not just long enough to make middle-management.

19
Nov
10

Chinese-born scientist reveals why the future belongs to China

Earlier this week there was an article about a China-born scientist named Yihua Zeng who is a solar weather scientist developing techniques to predict solar storms so we can anticipate the effects the energy outbursts will have on Earth and the finicky satellites swarming around it.

This is a new field and the article related how Ms. Zeng came to her calling. She was born in China after the Cultural Revolution had screwed up the nation and her father’s life for a couple of decades. After 1977 things got better and she started school. The article reports:

She was encouraged in math and science ever since elementary school in a culture that honored the sciences. “Being a scientist is very cool and very sacred,” says Zheng. “It’s almost every child’s dream to be a scientist when they grow up.”

That’s the remark that blew my mind! Imagine — in contrast to the prevailing culture in America — that we too honored the sciences and the dream of children was to be a scientist when they grow up. I can’t even imagine a greater contrast between two societies. Highly educated people in the US have been treated with derision and even suspicion my wholelife. Many names have been given to scientists: nerd, geek, dork, brain, egghead, mad scientist, weirdo, etc. The negative epithets applied to the highly educated and to scientists  have demonstrably damaged the recruitment of capable young students into math and science, especially girls. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” but it happens every day.

In America we have idolized the man of action, or the common-sense, two-fisted action figure. Solve problems with muscle, not brains. In Asia and other countries the intelligent, well-educated person is venerated. That, to my way of thinking, is a cultural flaw America that can’t reverse any time soon. We scratch our heads and ask, “How do we fix our schools? Why is our education system broken?” Ms. Zeng revealed why: it’s a cultural thing and cultures are incredibly hard to change. Our grad schools are filled with foreign students, but today countries like China are actively working to repatriate them after graduation unlike a couple of decades ago.

A few months ago I posted about how much China is committing huge amounts of money to educating their population. Add to that the comments of Ms. Zeng and I think the future seems pretty clear. I have long believed that the future belongs to the countries or cultures that make the most of their intellectual capital: the brains of their people. Those cultures deserve to lead the world. Seems to me the leadership in science, technology, and, hence, wealth and culture will shift to other hands.

02
Nov
10

“American Dream” or World Dream?

Last weekend Fareed Zakaria on his CNN show, GPS, did a great set of interviews with four CEOs of major “American” companies: Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM; Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO of Alcoa; Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola; and Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. They all opined on the show’s topic : Restoring the American Dream.” I found this an interesting coincidence since my last post was about how an iconic US company, Intel, has become a global giant that is sprinkling the largess of its chip manufacturing business around the world including a community in my own backyard.

I thought the questions from Fareed and responses from the execs did an exceptional job of examining what led up to the current anxiety about the country’s future and of eliciting some thoughtful ideas about what needs to be done to get back on track to a strong economy and national self-confidence. I would encourage everyone to watch the podcast.

Of the four CEOs, the one whose remarks resonated most with me was Lou Gerstner, perhaps because we appear to be about the same age and perhaps have witnessed the same history. He raised some issues I’ve thought about but that I have not seen discussed before. Fareed asked Gerstner if we could get back to the American Dream of the past. Gerstner said:

We come from a world where we sort of  had it made. The American Dream was a reality but it was driven by factors that no longer exist. We were alone in the world after WWII. In fact the war itself got us out of a depression and got us into investments in important technologies. And then we had the cold war; we had Sputnik. We had all these things that drove us to have a common purpose. Today I don’t see that.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s what I experienced growing up. During WWII the major nations in Europe and Asia were knocked flat on their backs. They spent more than a generation recovering from the war. During that time Americans seemed to inflate with the idea of  American exceptionalism.  I think there was a degree of racial arrogance in it as well. Many seemed to think that our Caucasian, post-European culture made us inherently superior to the masses of dark-skinned, black-haired people of the world just struggling to survive. We would always be on top because we were superior and, et sequitur, we deserved to be there.

Sputnik gave the US a great shock for which I will be forever grateful. California, where I was born, had developed a first-rate public education system, and I was drafted into a strong curriculum of math and science in high school. After all, the country needed rocket scientists. I attended University of California schools at a fraction of what kids pay today. Of course, that was also before the taxpayers decided in 1978 through the infamous Prop. 13 they didn’t want to support community education that much with property taxes and precipitated the decline of education in the state.

The other CEOs on Fareed’s show last weekend did a good job explaining how global trade — which was supposed to enlarge America’s power and wealth — turned around to bite us in the butt. It turns out there are a lot of hungry, smart, hard-working people in the world who would like to make the American Dream their dream too. The American Dream is the model for the global middle-class vision.

My takeaway from “Restoring the American Dream” is that today’s families have to greatly enlarge the frame within which they plan for their future well-being. The playing field for prosperity grows more and more level. Thinking just locally about  job security is not enough. Over the horizon there are many millions of children in classrooms and workers in factories aspiring to live affluently. Rising to that level and staying there is going to take a lifetime of foresight and effort.

30
Oct
10

A lesson in globalism with a local twist

When I moved up here near Portland several months ago I’d heard that it had what they called the “Silicon Forrest.” To the west of Portland is a nest of hight-tech companies including Nike, HP, Intel, Sun and quite an impressive list of others. And, in the last few weeks there has been a lot of excitement from the announcement by Intel that was going to expand its Hillsborough manufacturing and testing plant. Hillsborough is about 5 mi west of where I live.

In this down economy the announcement of an $8 billion plant to support its cutting-edge 22 nm features for processors is fantastic news. So the latest, greatest Intel CPUs will be made here for several years. It’ll mean somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 construction jobs over the next two years and about 1,000 permanent technical jobs. Sweet!

A lot of discontent in the US these days is over how: “our jobs have been shipped overseas!” The local Intel plant runs counter to that trend,  so I was somewhat surprised to see an announcement in my Oregonian this morning that Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini, was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, yesterday for a ceremony officially opening a $1 billion plant there. And earlier in the week he cut the ribbon on an Intel manufacturing plant in Dalian, China. Gee, do you remember when we were at war with North Vietnam and regularly bombing the crap out of Ho Chi Minh City? I sure do.

But it’s illustrative of how global commerce works. A lot of Americans seem to think that companies with US headquarters and names that are household words somehow have an obligation to be here and help employ Americans. Nah, that’s not how it works. These are not American corporations; they’re global and they go anywhere in the world to get the lowest labor costs and deals on the rest of what it takes to make their products. If you want to make money in the US invest in Intel stock. They don’t see the world and their purpose in nationalistic terms. A lot of Americans need to adjust their thinking to fit with that reality.

27
Jun
10

Repent, the end may be near

I thought I was a pessimist! But Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner (a scientist deeply involved in the eradication of smallpox with 22 books and 290 papers to his credit) gave an interview to The Australian last week in which he said:

“We’re going to become extinct… Whatever we do now is too late.”

Gone! Kaput! 86-ed! He thinks continued population growth multiplied by industrial-level consumption will make homo sapiens and other species extinct in ~100 years. Something akin to the extinction of the isolated population of Easter Island is, in his judgement, inevitable.

Well, that puts the trivialities I see on this morning’s (Sunday) political talk shows in perspective! But that’s part of Fenner’s point: we’re fiddling while Rome smolders and will continue to fiddle even as it burns.

I share a good deal of his pessimism. One of the first posts I did on this blog was about the estimate that children being born today have a 50/50 chance of living 100 years. I think everybody ought to be clear that today’s kids will live to see whether Fenner is right, partly right, or wrong. I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen, and I can’t understand why the parents of today’s kids don’t insist on discussing this every day. I attended my wife’s grandson’s high school graduation last week. (I have a couple of titular grandkids by marriage, not by reproduction.) He’ll experience all of it, and the run-up to anything even approaching extinction has got to be awful. I’ll be long gone, but I don’t envy the young.

To balance Fenner out, The Australian interviewed a colleague, Stephen Boyden, who has a more moderate view:

“Frank may be right, but some of us still harbour the hope that there will come about an awareness of the situation and, as a result, the revolutionary changes necessary to achieve ecological sustainability,” says Boyden, an immunologist who turned to human ecology later in his career.

“That’s where Frank and I differ. We’re both aware of the seriousness of the situation, but I don’t accept that it’s necessarily too late. While there’s a glimmer of hope, it’s worth working to solve the problem. We have the scientific knowledge to do it but we don’t have the political will.”

Glimmer of hope“? Not very reassuring.

Personally I doubt humans can be extinguished. Homo sapiens is a tough, ornery species. We evolved through horrendous bouts of plague, starvation, predation, and barbarism. Any return to those challenges is not what I think anyone wants for our children. Nevertheless, from what’s happened so far on climate issues I don’t expect revolutionary changes ever on behalf of the commons. Personal, short-term needs and stability appear to consistently trump concerns over “maybes” of the future.

Some dismiss Fenner as an elderly (95 y.o.) crank or a mere alarmist. But the purpose of an alarm is to get you into action before the house burns to the ground. It’s an opportunity to avoid worst-case outcomes. And there is no outcome I can think of that’s worse than the agony of extinction.

25
Feb
10

Hmm, is the China juggernaut that obvious?

I’ve done several posts — as recently as yesterday — mentioning the spectacular rise of China as a change driver with widespread effects. My assessment is that this will have big impact on people everywhere and be a disquieting influence that will disturb a lot of people. But my question now is: Am I just reitterating what’s become obvious to Americans?

In today’s Washington Post there’s a report of a Washington Post-ABC poll headlined: “Poll shows concern about American influence waning as China’s grows.”

Facing high unemployment and a difficult economy, most Americans think the United States will have a smaller role in the world economy in the coming years, and many believe that while the 20th century may have been the “American Century,” the 21st century will belong to China. […]

Asked whether this century would be more of an “American Century” or more of a “Chinese Century,” Americans divide evenly in terms of the economy (41 percent say Chinese, 40 percent American) and tilt toward the Chinese in terms of world affairs (43 percent say Chinese, 38 percent American). A slim majority say the United States will play a diminished role in the world’s economy this century, and nearly half see the country’s position shrinking in world affairs more generally.

This has a lot of Americans worried. Losing economic hegemony is not only perceived as a loss of power, but it also suggests that perhaps the country has lost its mojo, it’s in decline. I’d look at it another way. I’m a big fan of Fareed Zakaria’s 2008 book, The Post-American World. His first chapter is titled: “The Rise of the Rest.” His view is that America will remain a powerful and influential country, but other countries like China, India, and Brazil will gain much economically and gain world influence. In other words, wealth and power will have to be shared. His perspective suggests not that this is the end of American glory but that an adjustment to historical evolution is necessary.

The US is about 5% of the world’s population. Since WWII we’ve enjoyed enormous economic prosperity, military power, and prestigue. But history moves on, and the other 95% of the world’s people are developing too. How 5% would expect world dominance to last I don’t understand. Back in 1997 William Greider published a book I also admire: One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. In essence, Greider said the capitalism widely advocated in America had won; communism was discredited. The consequence of that is that labor income would move to the masses of people around the world willing to work for less than Americans because they have a much lower standard of living. Capitalism is the force leveling incomes worldwide, and, hence, influence.

A participant in the WashPo survey put it pretty well:

Annetta Jordan, another poll participant, said in a follow-up interview that she has witnessed the shifting economic strength firsthand. Jordan, a mother of two from Sandoval, N.M., was working at a cellular telephone plant in the early 1990s as production and hiring were ramped up. By 1992, the plant had 3,200 workers. “Then this whole China thing started and we were very quickly training Chinese to take our jobs,” she said. Now the plant has 100 people left. “We’re transferring our wealth to China,” she said. “I see that as a very negative thing. When I was younger, a lot of corporations had a lot of pride and patriotism toward America. But corporations have changed. If we in the U.S. go down, that’s okay; they’ll just move their offices to Beijing.”

Ahh, the fruits of success!

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