In the final session of the conference, participants sought to identify some of the most important themes that had been identified over the previous day and a half. Moderator Denis Simon of the Levin Institute began the session by suggesting five key points:
We are entering an era with multiple scenarios, much fluidity and turbulence, and potential for international economic and political conflict.
China is producing a huge number of science and engineering graduates for what may be different paths of talent -- a “just in case” strategic innovation on the “just in time” business philosophy. Understanding the demand for talent will be important.
For the United States, China poses a paradigm change far greater than Japan’s growth in the 1980s. All the systems that we have taken for granted—manufacturing, education, competition—are unraveling, so Americans need to put on new glasses for viewing the world. One reality is that multinational companies have moved much further into globalization than most people perceive or understand.
In education, the issue is not quantity of academic degrees but quality of talent. Talent must be prepared to adapt to new environments, understand how to manage risk and uncertainty, and know how to make decisions.
Does the U.S. government understand what these trends mean? What are the public policy implications? Clearly, there is a need to adapt policy more quickly.
Pete Engardio of BusinessWeek observed that the conference had not turned up examples of important next-generation products coming out of China or India. Was that a function of the sectors examined or of looking in the rearview mirror?
According to Marco di Capua of the Beijing office of the U.S. Department of Energy, the fact that the world is entering an energy-constrained era is not sufficiently appreciated in the United States. Important energy issues will be production, structure, diversification and competition, and new sources. A key challenge will be how to extract oil from new or marginal sources without creating huge carbon emissions. Another will be dealing with unpleasant historical legacies. A third is how we innovate in the consumption of energy. The United States can be a leader, not by “beating others” in competition but by showing the way.
Several speakers referred to the importance of labor mobility as a source of cross-pollination in the emerging global economy. In the near term the United States is likely to experience a movement of highly trained people back to their countries of origin, including India and China. But the United States should endeavor to remain a magnet for foreign talent, for example by lowering barriers to entry, including delays in visa processing.
Near the 50th anniversary of the Soviet launch of Sputnik, conference participants were reminded that the prospect of Chinese and Indian competition may spur efforts to renew U.S. education and innovation. But conference chair David Morgenthaler observed that this will depend on recognizing that opportunities and needs change. Strikingly, the United States lacks a business plan for its future. The economy is riding Moore’s Law regarding the
increase in computer processing power for a few more years; but beyond that, future drivers of growth are unclear. What is clear, he said, is that the United States needs to do a better job of strategic planning as the economies of China and India will surpass ours in size.
Chinese and Indian participants—in particular Mu Rongping of the Chinese Academy and Rishikesha Krishnan of the Indian Institute of Management—noted that there will continue to be points of tension between their countries and the United States, particularly over trade and the U.S. current account deficit; but they expressed confidence in the flexibility of the U.S. economy and its ability to adapt and in the ability of all three countries to learn from each other how to sustain innovation and growth.