Sunday, October 31, 2010

Where is the American dream?

Nice column by Tom Friedman. He is writing from India.
[When] more than a few U.S. politicians are loudly denouncing immigration reforms, free trade expansion and outsourcing, more than a few Indian business leaders want to ask the president: “What’s up with that?” Didn’t America export to the world all the technologies and free market dogmas that created this increasingly flat, global economic playing field — and now you’re turning against them?

“It is the Silicon Valley revolution which enabled the massive rise in tradable services and the U.S.-built telecommunication networks that allowed creation of the virtual office,” Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal Online, wrote in the Indian magazine Businessworld this week. “But the U.S. seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned. The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity.” Ouch. …

“America,” said Srivastava [co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India], “was the one who said to us: ‘You have to go for meritocracy. You don’t have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.’ This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they’re beginning to learn how to hum it, you’re changing the anthem. … Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn’t fashionable.” …

It looks, said Srivastava, as if “what is happening in America is a loss of self-confidence. We don’t want America to lose self-confidence. Who else is there to take over America’s moral leadership? American’s leadership was never because you had more arms. It was because of ideas, imagination, and meritocracy.” If America turns away from its core values, he added, “there is nobody else to take that leadership. Do we want China as the world’s moral leader? No. We desperately want America to succeed.”

This isn’t just so American values triumph. With a rising China on one side and a crumbling Pakistan on the other, India’s newfound friendship with America has taken on strategic importance. “It is very worrying to live in a world that no longer has the balance of power we’ve had for 60 years,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “That is why everyone is concerned about America.”

India and America are both democracies, a top Indian official explained to me, but emotionally they are now ships passing in the night. Because today the poorest Indian maid believes that if she can just save a few dollars to get her kid English lessons, that kid will have a better life than she does. So she is an optimist. “But the guy in Kansas,” he added, “who today is enjoying a better life than that maid, is worried that he can’t pass it on to his kids. So he’s a pessimist.”

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