All that comes at a price. To produce such great accomplishments, our economic system, evidencing its version of what has been called creative destructionism, destroys 29 million jobs each year while generating 31 million new jobs. In fact, about one-sixth of all jobs in the United States are destroyed in any given year. Mathematicians would describe the process as encompassing the most hazardous of calculations in that it concerns relatively small differences between relatively large numbers, and economists would say that the job market is highly volatile. But if one assumed a 10% adverse change in both job creation and job destruction, it would result in the disappearance of twice as many net jobs as are now being added. Such is the tenuousness of life in a modern economy.
If the overall economy is doing so well, what is the concern?
In a word, trends.
Not only are others getting better, but also to a disconcerting degree America has in many respects been losing its own edge. Truly, America has enjoyed what for many have been the best of times—seldom if ever has the world seen a single nation with such broad predominance—but these are also the worst of times, inasmuch as we are slipping perilously and silently closer to the flat earth’s edge. Ironically, the nations that are emerging as our most serious competitors are doing so in large part by adopting the best of our institutional practices and often executing them better than we. In America, we are to a considerable degree living off past investments, the comparatively strong position the nation held at the end of World War II, and the prevalence of English as the predominant language of business, government, and technical education. But the impact of those discriminators appears to be diminishing. Simply stated, we have been eating our seed corn.
Worse yet, this is a crisis that provides no sudden, dramatic warning as did, say, 9/11, Sputnik, and Pearl Harbor. In the present instance, the analogy much more closely matches the proverbial frog being slowly boiled. We are witnessing a gradual, albeit accelerating, erosion rather than a single cataclysmic wakeup call.
Charles Darwin observed that “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” That conclusion seems to apply to human organizations as well as to biological organisms. There can be no more dangerous place to be than in first place: the one holding that exalted position becomes everyone else’s target and, perhaps worse, is the recognized beneficiary of the status quo—and therefore reluctant to promote, or even accept, change.