Sunday, April 18, 2004

30 Pages = 1329 Words 

I finished the opinion piece on Saturday afternoon and shipped it off to my colleagues for comment. Thirty pages of handwritten notes from the business conference boiled to 1320 words. It has a dour warning about the next 20 years. We are entering a period of scarce commodities and overcapacity worldwide. There won't be enough jobs for any country.

But all isn't lost. The US and Europe have faced similar circumstances before and will again. The challenge is what they do about it. The CEOs who spoke at this conference were frank about what they are doing. They are going to the lowest cost source for manufacturing and intellectual capital as long as these sources meet quality standards. And guess what? They do. Millions around the world are striving for a lifestyle that approximates what Americans, Canadians and Europeans have. They are willing to work for less if they see a way to advance for themselves and their children. As one CEO put it, how can one discriminate against people like that by keeping jobs in North America or Europe? The answer is that one shouldn't, and the CEOs won't.

What this means is that both Europe and America have a challenge to produce goods of sufficient complexity and value that other parts of the world can't readily produce them. That's not easy to do and it might require fewer people than factories of yore. So what do the unemployed do? There is no answer yet. The CEOs didn't know, and I sure don't.

Several sounded a note of caution to Americans. The US educational system is broken. The US must have more scientists and engineers to invent the future. Right now, however, it is hard to get kids out of highschool who pass standardized testing. Meanwhile, several states are rebelling against the idea that they should have to pay for such testing. It doesn't sound like the political realm is ready yet to meet the challenge.


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