The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?
of those candidates are not now qualified for the positions held by many Americans, but that too is changing. The magnitude of the revolution is suggested by the fact that 150 nations seek to participate in the global economy, compared with 87 just 25 years ago.
The question arises, “Will we all end up working at McDonald’s?” The answer is no, because those jobs aren’t safe either. McDonald’s, it seems, has been experimenting with a centralized order-taking system wherein drive-through customers speak their meal requests into a voice recorder that transmits them via a synchronous equatorial satellite orbiting some 23,000 miles above Earth to a central facility staffed by people who are expert in taking orders. The requests are then re-entered digitally and transmitted via satellite to the person who prepares hamburgers and fries—a communication trip equivalent to four transits around the earth. Using this process, McDonald’s has cut its error rate in half and increased its throughput by 30%. As it happens, the central ordering facility is, at present, in Colorado Springs, but it could just as easily be in Alice Springs, in the Outback of Australia.
Initially, many of the jobs threatened by the global employment revolution moved to Mexico, but those jobs are now moving out of Mexico, which by the new global standard is becoming high-priced albeit not nearly as high priced as the United States. Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia, and China were among the immediate beneficiaries of the new wage disparity. However, as reported by Tom Friedman, firms in India are now beginning to outsource work to Uruguay.
Few Americans have been to Guandong, Zuzhou, Mumbai, or Bangalore, but if they went they would probably receive a rude awakening in the form of large numbers of highly motivated, well-trained workers, often surrounded by state-of-the art equipment. One who harbors any doubts about the latter need only visit Biopolis in Singapore, CERN in Switzerland, or the nuclear-fusion research facilities in China. In fact, five of the top 10 exporters of high-technology products are emerging economies, compared with just 2 two decades ago.
Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek, has noted that “of Wal-Mart’s 6,000 suppliers, 5,000—80%—are in one country … and it isn’t the United States.” The economic impact on both nations is evident: the city of Beijing alone is adding 30,000 cars each month. China already has more than twice as many mobile-phone users as the United States. A few years ago, the mayor of Shanghai told me that over one-third of the construction cranes in the world were in his city. Between now and 2015, half the construction on Earth is planned to take place in China. About 22 billion square feet of buildings, mostly commercial, are being added each year; the total existing US commercial infrastructure