As has been noted, it is unreasonable to expect that in a broadly prospering world any single nation can maintain indefinitely the broad dominance that America has enjoyed in recent decades. But America can, if it wishes, maintain a position of considerable strength, overall prosperity, and constructive leadership. Furthermore, if America decides no longer to play a major leadership role, the perplexing question then arises, Who might do so? This should be of concern to all.

Although only the passage of time can offer certainty, the available evidence strongly suggests that America and the world are on the precipice of a change of seismic proportions—a tipping point—similar to the one that saw the fraction of American workers engaged in agriculture plummet from 84% in the early 1800s to eventually settle at about 1%. The primary differences between that shift and today’s is that the current transition will take place on a global scale and will occur much more rapidly. And no one will be immune to its impact.

A Broadway show some years ago bore the provocative title, Stop the World—I Want To Get Off. Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, this new world is not likely to stop, or even pause, for anyone. Perhaps, then, the best advice for everyone is offered in a poem by Richard Hodgetts:

Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up.

It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it

will be killed.

Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up.

It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle

or it will starve.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a

gazelle—when the sun comes up, you’d

better be running.

Churchill once said that you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else. Reversing America’s competitiveness decline is one thing we had better get right the first time.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement