Even given these and other recent events, the United States remains relatively strong in comparative economic terms, based in large part on investments made in decades past—such as the GI Bill, post-Sputnik actions to strengthen science and technology, and investments in the Apollo lunar program—the latter of which motivated many young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. U.S. research in the life sciences has produced many life-extending and life-improving medical technologies.15 Today, with less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States still produces 25 percent of global output.16 It devotes a fraction of GDP to research and development that ranks it among the higher investor nations (although well behind Japan and South Korea).17 It has a predominant share of the world’s finest universities.18 It maintains the world’s strongest conventional and strategic military force. It is the world’s largest source of financial capital. It is home to a disproportionate share of the globe’s innovators, particularly in high-tech, many of whom immigrated from abroad. Its economic system generally permits weak companies to fail and strong companies to prosper. Other strengths include a unique ability to assimilate immigrants, a research funding allocation system that is largely merit-based (e.g. peer-reviewed competition for nearly all grants), respect for a spirit of adventure and non-conformity, and a willingness to give the best talent independence at an early age. And, stated rather sardonically by Daniel Gross writing in Newsweek, “America still leads the world at processing failure.”19

All of the above is backed by a government characterized by a remarkable degree of stability and operating under the rule of law.

But the continued existence of such assets is not guaranteed—and many, as is becoming increasingly apparent, are subject to atrophy. Indeed, in recent years most competitiveness measures have trended in a flat or negative direction insofar as the United States ability to compete for jobs is concerned.

In addition, three new factors have evidenced themselves during the half-decade that

and Innovation Council, State of the Nation: Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation System, 2008, see: http://www.stic-csti.ca/eic/site/stic-csti.nsf/eng/h_00011.html.


Joint Economic Committee. The Benefits of Medical Research and the Role of the NIH, May 2000. Available at: http://www.faseb.org/portals/0/pdfs/opa/2008/nih_research_benefits.pdf.


U.S. Census Population Clock (http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html); NSB, 2010, Appendix Table 6-2.


NSB, 2010, Table 4-11.


Top 200 World Universities, Times Higher Education. Available at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/Rankings2009-Top200.html; Academic Ranking of World Universities, http://www.arwu.org/ARWU2009.jsp.


D. Gross, The Comeback Country, Newsweek, April 9, 2010.

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