Over the last few years, there’ve been an increasing slew of proclamations about America’s “decline” as an economic power — for instance, check this Fortune cover story by Geoff Colvin.
A key figure cited by the “declinistas” as evidence of America’s decline is the huge imbalance of engineering graduates between the US and those two Asian “juggernauts”, China and India — one much-cited stat pegs China at 600, 000 graduates per year and India at 350, 000 versus a paltry 70,000 for America.
Not so fast, says Vivek Wadhwa in his Business Week column. Wadhwa and a team of researchers from Duke found
…that the U.S. was graduating 222,335 engineers, vs. 215,000 from India. The closest comparable number reported by China is 644,106, but it includes additional majors. Looking strictly at four-year degrees and without considering accreditation or quality, the U.S. graduated 137,437 engineers, vs. 112,000 from India. China reported 351,537 under a broader category. All of these numbers include information technology and related majors.
The point? The declinistas never tire of saying that
America is in trouble and that the root cause lies with our education system. There’s no doubt that K-12 science and math could be improved, and few will dispute that America needs to invest more in education and research.
However, (America’s) higher education system isn’t in trouble — in fact, it’s still the world’s best. We spend the most on research, produce the most patents, have the most innovative curriculum, and educate many of the world’s leaders.
Sidebar 1: As I’ve said earlier, I’ve always regarded the sturm und drang over outsourcing as much ado about nothing. I’m not trying to diminish India’s (or China’s) recent accomplishments. It’s just that India certainly ain’t no economic (or knowledge) superpower — not by a long shot. So, let’s go easy on the self-congratulatory chest-thumping. And likewise, for a $12 trillion economy to import $10 billion in white-collar services from India isn’t a sign of weakness.
Sidebar 2: A lot of the declinistas sound oh-so-1980s. Back then, the rise of Japan was supposedly exposing the weaknesses in America’s educational and business set-up, when it was more a reflection of Japan’s rise (as in the case of China and India today) rather than America’s decline. Wonder if some of the declinistas’ angst and anxiety arises from solipsism — a genuine American weakness, in my opinion.