America: Thriving in a World of Challenge and Change proposed an urgent legislative agenda to make America more competitive. The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation’s 2006 report Measuring the Moment warned that “those who stand still will fall behind…. If the United States continues to stand still [specifically in basic research in the physical sciences], it faces inevitable decline.” The Council of Graduate Schools 2007 report Graduate Education: The Backbone of American Competitiveness and Innovation asserted that “we can no longer take for granted America’s continued leadership in innovation and competitiveness.”
Indeed, during the past 3 years alone, at least 16 significant reports on America’s growing competitiveness disadvantage have been issued by such reputable organizations as the Council on Competitiveness, the Business Roundtable, the Brookings Institution, the Association of American Universities, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the National Association of Manufacturers, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, the Technology CEO Council, the US Chamber of Commerce, The Council of Graduate Schools, and the National Academies.
Today, it is possible that our nation’s adult generation will, for the first time in history, leave their children and grandchildren a lower sustained standard of living than they themselves enjoyed. Should that occur, it will be the consequence of a collective failure to respond to the increasingly clear signals that are emerging, and indicate that we have entered a new era, a global era, an era in which Americans must compete in the marketplace not merely with each other but with highly qualified people around the planet. It will represent a change of seismic proportions with commensurate implications for America’s economic well-being, national and homeland security, health care, and overall standard of living.
At the same time, it must be recognized that the nations currently leading the global competitiveness surge are not without their own challenges. China, for example, is still basically an agrarian society with almost half its workers engaged in farming. Its gross domestic product per capita is only 17% of that of the United States. The corresponding value for India is but 9% of America’s. Thirty-five percent of India’s citizens survive on a daily household income of about $1 per person; but remarkably, this portion has been reduced from 50% in 1984. As developing nations prosper their governments may seek a disproportionate share of corporate earnings in the form of taxes and thereby undermine the progress that has been made. Other developed nations probably face even greater challenges than the United States, for example, Western Europe with its high labor costs,