"The Secret of Our Sauce"

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.)

He says:

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.