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Watching American Technical Dominance Slip Away February 16, 2014

Posted by geoff in News.

As many bloggers who wish-they-could-get-that-15-minutes-of-their-life-back can attest, I have an unfortunate tendency to spoil the mood at social functions by sharing my belief that the science & technology landscape is shifting away from 60 years of US dominance. In my field I’ve noticed that where 15 years ago foreign authors comprised only 20% of journal articles (and they sucked), now over 50% of articles are written by foreign authors (and they’re quite good).

The National Science Board has noticed the same trend:

Evidence in NSB’s biennial report, Science and Engineering Indicators, which provides the most comprehensive federal information and analysis on the nation’s position in S&T, makes it increasingly clear that the U.S., Japan, and Europe no longer monopolize the global R&D arena. Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed in the U.S. and Europe has decreased, respectively, from 37 percent to 30 percent and from 26 percent to 22 percent. In this same time period, the share of worldwide R&D performed by Asian countries grew from 25 percent to 34 percent. China led the Asian expansion, with its global share growing from just 4 percent to 15 percent during this period.

“The first decade of the 21st century continues a dramatic shift in the global scientific landscape,” said NSB Chairman Dan Arvizu, who is also the director and chief executive of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Emerging economies understand the role science and innovation play in the global marketplace and in economic competitiveness and have increasingly placed a priority on building their capacity in science and technology.”

Over the past 7 years I’ve been singling out China in particular as a country that’s overtaking the US’s tech advantage. They’re no longer just a source of low priced labor:

The size of China’s high-tech manufacturing industry increased nearly six-fold between 2003 and 2012, raising China’s global share of high-tech manufacturing from eight percent to 24 percent during that decade, closing in on the U.S. share of 27 percent.

I keep hearing people say “but they’re just copying the US” and “they’re not creative.” Yeah, whatever. They said the same thing about Japan in the 60’s.

Recall Japan in that time, when their electronics and automobile industries were just starting to sell products in the US. Detroit dominated car sales, the US still made TVs, and cheap foreign manufacturing was just getting going. “Made in Japan” was the butt of many jokes.

20 years later Japan had huge penetration into the automobile industry, had killed off American TV manufacturing, and was the international model of quality manufacturing and design. They were innovative in both technology and business, and the US started copying them.

Now imagine that same pre-explosion Japan, but with 12X more people. That’s what has me worried.


1. geoff - February 17, 2014

Then there’s this:

Report: Americans completely reliant on China for antibiotics

“The crucial ingredients for nearly all antibiotics, steroids and many other lifesaving drugs are now made exclusively in China,” The New York Times reported

Indeed, 2014 marks the tenth anniversary of Bristol-Myers Squibb — the last American plant that manufactured the key ingredients for penicillin and other drugs — shuttering it’s upstate New York factory.

“Like other manufacturing operations, drug plants have been moving to Asia because labor, construction, regulatory and environmental costs are lower there,” the Times reported in 2009.

2. lauraw - February 17, 2014

Monty was just talking recently about how that is going to be a severe problem when one of these places with a monopoly on a good we need gets ticked off at us again or has domestic issues that impact production.

3. Tushar - February 17, 2014

When I was growing up, my Grandpa used to tell me about stuff from all over the world. He told me that one of the reason countries like America were so far ahead was because of (among other things) good political leadership.

I now see that he got that one wrong. America was developed inspite of the politicians. But now the politicians have finally managed to reign America in.

If is not labor and construction costs. Pharma plants are highly automated. It is the regulatory and environmental costs. And environmental cost does not mean costs imposed on the environment by the industry. It means costs imposed on industry by environmental assholes.

4. geoff - February 17, 2014

Monty was just talking recently about how that is going to be a severe problem when one of these places with a monopoly on a good we need gets ticked off at us again or has domestic issues that impact production.

Yep – that’s part of the geopolitical game that the Obama administration doesn’t even realize it’s playing. It’s also why I’ve been raising the alarm bells over China for the past 7+ years.

China has been establishing ties with Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Russia to make sure that it gets the resources it needs to keep its economy growing. The US has been letting those ties lapse.

Here’s the tail end of a post I wrote back in 2008:

Here are a few shortages/radical price increases we’ve already seen over the past few years:

Scrap Metal
Gas & Oil

As you can see, these aren’t isolated occurrences, and once the shortages appear, they tend to persist. Our future is one of continuing price increases, and impaired access to basic commodities we have taken for granted for decades. And as usual, we don’t appear to have any sort of coherent strategy for dealing with this situation.

I’d hate to think that we are living at the all-time peak in our lifestyle, and that going forward we’ll see a steady decline in our standard of living, but it’s certainly appearing that that’s the case.

In the post I point out that this is due to increasing international competition and our declining influence.

5. roamingfirehydrant - February 18, 2014

My budget for journal articles was zeroed years ago. I don’t know how much it is now, but I’m not particularly motivated to pay $800 or more out of my pocket to get published.

That said, it is unnerving how much this administration has hurt our friends and helped our enemies,

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