Newsweek's latest cover asks "Can America Compete ?" It leads with an article written by Fareed Zakaaria which starts out by saying that the United States is still the dominant force in technology, innovation, productivity and profits. "But Americans don't quite realise how fast the rest of the world is catching up," it says.
Zakaria frowns upon what he diagnoses as a larger cultural decay in the nation. "A country that once adhered to a Puritan ethic of delayed gratification has become one that revels in instant pleasures...America is becoming a post-industrialised society that specialises in consumption and leisure, he says.
He concludes with a firm note of paranoia. "First, be scared, be very scared. The United States has a history of worrying that it is losing its edge..but America's problem right now is that it is not really that scared. Mainstream America is still unconcerned.." And so on.
Do We Have Stuff To Be Paranoid About ?
Zakaria is not alone in his paranoia. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has hit similar notes in his recent columns. The interesting thing is not the paranoia, but what follows. Both writers have offered solutions. Newsweek then outlines `15 Ideas To Recharge America." Each idea is attributed to one person. The first is Rob Glaser, CEO of Real Networks, the second is Arati Prabhakar of US Venture Partners.
The Delhi-born Arati Prabhakar argues that immigration should be viewed as a strength. "What are the things that are good for America ? That means being completely engaged in the flow of people, capital and goods around the world." She also says the immigrant society has a rich advantage.
So, I wonder wonder we don't have the same degree of paranoia about India ? Shouldn't we be paranoid that we are in a position where could well lose the few competitive advantages we've notched up in the last few years, in the global economy ? Shouldn't we be paranoid about what our millions of youth will do, without jobs ? Or whether they will get the right jobs ? Shouldn't we be paranoid that our boom story of the last three years is hanging precipitously on balance ?
The Wrong Paranoia ?
Okay, maybe the number one guy is paranoid because he has something to lose. Like America. Possibly for the rest its about the determination to catch up. I am not sure I see too much of that. Ive seen all sorts of people getting worked up about a survey-based allegation that Mumbaikars are rude but not getting paranoid about the city in an accelerated ride to the very bottom.
And then, how do we instil or inject paranoia ? Am not sure about this. Most Indian corporations are paranoid. Part of the whole attempt to have strong global footprints stems from a paranoia about Indian markets. And whether they can survive purely on the strength of the domestic market. Or whether they can take on global competition if they are not global themselves.
Of course I see paranoia around. Its mostly about whether Naresh Goyal is actually a scheming spy who might use his aircraft (Jet Airways) to bomb god knows what. Or how China may attack us tommorrow (you think I am joking, read some of our regular defence columnists). Or, its about how our youth is getting waylaid and skirts are getting shorter. And how the screening of Da Vinci Code could cause irreversible damage to our religious sensibilities. Or how some lady entered a temple she was not supposed to..I can go on...