New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has commented that America’s answer to offshoring is our innovative and entrepreneurial culture. He says it can’t be duplicated anywhere. With some reservations, I tend to agree with him (some of you may remember our discussion a few months ago of You’re-in-Control at MIT.)
This is America’s real edge. Sure Bangalore has a lot of engineering schools, but the local government is rife with corruption; half the city has no sidewalks; there are constant electricity blackouts; the rivers are choked with pollution; the public school system is dysfunctional; beggars dart in and out of the traffic, which is in constant gridlock; and the whole infrastructure is falling apart. The big high-tech firms here reside on beautiful, walled campuses, because they maintain their own water, electricity and communications systems. They thrive by defying their political-economic environment, not by emerging from it.
But there are contrary forces at work in America too—banning GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in Mendocino County, CA, anti-stem cell policies. (I’m pretty sure Mendocino is still the largest marijuana-producing place in the US. I’ll bet if someone genetically modified Sensimilla to get buds as big as pineapples, they’d reconsider the ordinance.) And, while Fiedman’s words are soothing, I wouldn’t let that lull us into thinking that change can’t come rapidly in other cultures.