This article by Thomas Friedman caught my eye. This article is not about Pakistan. Pakistan is not mentioned even once in the article. This is not about South Asia, or militant Islam, or the war on terror. It is about none of the ideological war between the religious right wing ideologies and the secular ideals that we espouse at PTH.
A cursory glance and we realize why United States is the biggest economic and scientific power in the world. Let me say that I have selective admiration of the United States. I am critical of United States’ opportunistic foreign policies. I however realize that world has seen an enormous scientific and economic development under the vastly expanding global democratic capitalistic society that is led by the United States. We are living in the most fruitful scientific evolutionary times in all of the human history where the scope of technology is increasing at an exponential rate in a matter of decades. We are also living in one of the wealthiest times of human history, where the world GDP per capita almost tripled between 1900 and the year 2000. To give you some comparison, the yearly growth rate of GDP per single person was close to zero up to the year 1700 from the earliest human times.
The scientific and economic advances are joined at the hip. Science allows us to become more efficient, produce more and most importantly, explore more. Technology doubles in its scope and computational power in almost one decade. An average cell phone now holds more computing power that was available to the NASA spacecrafts some 40 years ago. All of this allows us to produce more at the same, or even less price. It allows us to increase the output exponentially with the aid of scientific innovations and efficient processes.
The strength of the modern economic system is not money. The Amount of money in an economic system is not at all indicative of the wealth of the economy. US economic strength comes from the human capital that is carefully nurtured in this modern superpower. The United States practices a capitalistic economy where the biggest capital remains the human capital. This capital is allowed the protection of law, given complete equality in the eyes of the state, given protection for its rights by the constitution and the bill of rights, and then allowed to explore its potential.
It is not the massive military complex of the United States that can keep the place of this nation as a super power some five decades from now. India and China are rapidly progressing economically and according to a few aggressive forecasts, they will overtake United States as the biggest economic powers in less than three decades from now. The future of the United States will be determined by how this country stays true to its ideals of democracy, free speech and its investment in the human capital that will become scientific innovators and business leaders of tomorrow.
None of these prosperity measures of course only applies to the United States. Any country that invests in its human capital should expect the real prosperity down the road due the only investment that really matters. Pakistan with its 170 million residents can learn to invest in educating its youngsters now and be a major player in the world in coming years due to its high human capital induced wealth. We can work together toward the ideals of democracy, equal rights, free speech, education and investment in the biggest asset that we ever had: the Pakistanis themselves.
From The New York Times
By Thomas Friedman, published March 20, 2010
Went to a big Washington dinner last week. You know the kind: Large hall; black ties; long dresses. But this was no ordinary dinner. There were 40 guests of honor. So here’s my Sunday news quiz: I’ll give you the names of most of the honorees, and you tell me what dinner I was at. Ready?
Linda Zhou, Alice Wei Zhao, Lori Ying, Angela Yu-Yun Yeung, Lynnelle Lin Ye, Kevin Young Xu, Benjamin Chang Sun, Jane Yoonhae Suh, Katheryn Cheng Shi, Sunanda Sharma, Sarine Gayaneh Shahmirian, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, David Chienyun Liu, Elisa Bisi Lin, Yifan Li, Lanair Amaad Lett, Ruoyi Jiang, Otana Agape Jakpor, Peter Danming Hu, Yale Wang Fan, Yuval Yaacov Calev, Levent Alpoge, John Vincenzo Capodilupo and Namrata Anand.
No, sorry, it was not a dinner of the China-India Friendship League. Give up?
O.K. All these kids are American high school students. They were the majority of the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national contest, identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in America, based on their solutions to scientific problems. The awards dinner was Tuesday, and, as you can see from the above list, most finalists hailed from immigrant families, largely from Asia.
Indeed, if you need any more convincing about the virtues of immigration, just come to the Intel science finals. I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets, magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that guarantees that we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world’s first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.
This isn’t complicated. In today’s wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.
If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can use freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage my backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea. And this Intel dinner was all about our best sparklers.
Before the dinner started, each contestant stood by a storyboard explaining their specific project. Namrata Anand, a 17-year-old from the Harker School in California, patiently explained to me her research, which used spectral analysis and other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of “Andromeda Galaxy.” I did not understand a word she said, but I sure caught the gleam in her eye.
My favorite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. She had taught two of the finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her school, extremely “supportive parents” and a grant from Intel that let her spend part of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest. Then she told me this: Local San Jose realtors are running ads in newspapers in China and India telling potential immigrants to “buy a home” in her Lynbrook school district because it produced “two Intel science winners.”
Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40 finalists are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the overall winner of the $100,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently “travel through the solar system.” After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow competitor-geeks.
Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years. It left me thinking, “If we can just get a few things right — immigration, education standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy — maybe we’ll be O.K.” It left me feeling that maybe Alice Wei Zhao of North High School in Sheboygan, Wis., chosen by her fellow finalists to be their spokeswoman, was right when she told the audience: “Don’t sweat about the problems our generation will have to deal with. Believe me, our future is in good hands.”
As long as we don’t shut our doors.