Thomas Loren Friedman, three times Pulitzer Prize winner and a columnist and author, once wrote an article ( NY Times, Opinion, 3-20-2010), “America’s Real Dream Team”, attributing the success of America to her brilliant immigrants. A well known Chinese historian and political analyst, Ms Zi (資中筠 88），has referenced Friedman’s article recently to answer her own query article, what is the reason making America so great? (4-27-2018, Knowledge Search 知識探索）She said that American talents made America great and China’s education did not produce talents for China but sent them to the U.S. becoming their talents. She pointed out that the U.S. has been able to attract bright students from all over the world and many of them become America’s talents. China must create a condition conducive to attracting talents to come to China (not just offering money) to stay in education and work place. These two articles all shared a view, that it is people or talents that make a nation great.
It is puzzling though while pondering on the above two scholars’ profound articles I repeatedly heard the American President saying that China has stolen the jobs away from America (hence making the US economy and export trade weak?) President Trump won his presidency on the slogan, ‘To Make America Great Again’. Indeed, since his inauguration, he has been focusing on his campaign promises. Trump has been tough on illegal immigrant issue even affected the legal immigration process. He blames China for US domestic problems such as losing manufacturing industry and companies moving abroad. But are we really dealing with a situation that the U.S. has talents but lost jobs Or more seriously the U.S. has lost both jobs and talents or there is a serious mismatch of skills and jobs? Are these problems really caused by China while record number of Chinese students coming to the U.S. to study? A rising unfortunate sentiment, which was fanned by the media, was charging all Chinese Americans as potential industrial or military spies for China and suggesting restriction on Chinese students and faculties engaged in their engagement of hi-tech research in the U.S. Recalling Friedman’s above article, this type of sentiment is not only unfair and discriminating but is also harmful to the core value of immigrants making this country great. This is the reason the title subject must be discussed in this column.
History show us, China as a principally agricultural nation had a strong economy leading the world for many centuries. The industrial revolution brought machine and energy systems to human society that made the Britain the world’s strongest nation deserving her name, Great Britain. While the industry revolution brought the invention of automobile, but a short-sighted British Law to limit automobile speed to be comparable to horse carriage to protect the coach and buggy drivers’ jobs essentially gave the auto industry away to Americans and later also to Germans. The engines played a significant role in Second World War. The victory of allies in WW II made the U.S. militarily strong, but it is the computer revolution and its resulting automation really made the U.S. the number one economy in the world, not only made Americans rich but also sustained her military superiority. China on the other hand was a victim of foreign aggression throughout most of the nineteen and the twentieth century thus barely could provide food for her citizens.
Post WW II, the U.S. almost led in every field of agriculture, manufacturing, science and technology. While many Western countries including the defeated Germany and Japan were helped by the U.S. recovering from the war damage, China was artificially divided into two parts across the Taiwan Strait thus having a slower recovery. It was not until the U.S. recognized Mainland China for the purpose of rivaling the Soviet Union, only then China systematically embraced capitalism under a Chinese defined communist system to accelerate her economic development. Like Japan and many other fast developing countries who took the coattail of the U.S. in industrialization and computerization copying and overtaking the U.S. from low tech to mid-tech, while the U.S. was able to keep up with the innovation and advances in hi-tech industries, China was trailing behind them in a low-key but methodical manner. What amazed the world was China’s rapid speed in development, a double digit growth in economy and a fast-forward in embracing technology and innovation.
We are living in a very competitive world. The advance of information technology and Internet made the world a fairer playing field. Countries with large population backed with easy access of education like India and China can exert their competitive power. It was never easy for any country to maintain at the No. one spot forever. Seventy years ago, the size of US economy was 40% of the world economy and today she is less than 20%. Taiwan at one time had a GDP comparable to Mainland China’s but now at 5% or less. No matter what political system a country has, it needs great leaders to make the country great. President Trump is a very unusual leader. He recognizes the problems of the U.S. and is trying to figure out how to fix them fast. Rhetoric, bluffing and threats are always part of the international politics, but at the end of the day, great leaders must make intelligent decisions based on facts learned.
Japan, Europe and China did not steal American jobs. The U.S. had chosen or let her economic development to shift away from labor intensive and/or low profit industries to brain intensive businesses, partly because of computer/automation advances which striped away many physical jobs and partly because of the ease of making a fortune in financial industries with Information technologies. Even the government became more and more dependent on creating and selling financial instruments to pay for its operation. The US education was the envy of the world but the U.S failed to recognize and match the rapid change of job/skill requirements in the industry and marketplace. Creative minds need to know where creativity is required. Only physical hands-on experience can give one the immediate clue to apply one’s creativity. Americans cannot get more jobs because of skill obsolescence and failure to engage life learning to anticipate job changes and new skill requirements. Most US colleges were too liberal allowing majority of faculty and students pursuing teaching/learning with no career planning in mind. The foreign students usually came with career in mind and they cherry pick the best schools, the best course and the best faculty to study under. If they chose to stay that would be advantage to the U.S. If they chose to go back that would be US loss.
Many scholars, economists and educators do understand the above scenario, but education reforms and life philosophy changes take time. Life-long learning takes generations to form into a professional habit. Rapid rises in China and India swept Americans off their feet but the U.S. is a big and strong nation. There is no doubt that she can compete in this world by making fundamental changes in education system, life philosophy and learning habits. One must realize that in 21st century by throwing one’s military weight around or bullying can only hurt each other. Judging from the rapid changes of pace in the US-China trade negotiation from hostility/confrontation to discussion/compromise, hopefully, our leader President Trump and his good friend President Xi have understood the real challenges and will lead the two great nations onto the right path for mutual prosperity and world peace.