Still proud to be an independent superpower 

Times may seem gloomy. Gas prices are at an all-time high and unemployment in the U.S. remains a problem. And many Americans are worried that their children’s futures will be compromised by today’s high deficits and debt.

Yet according to data released by the 2011 World Competitiveness Yearbook, the U.S. ranks
No. 1 in the competitive analysis of 59 countries.

After falling to third place in 2010, which marked the first time the U.S. had ever fallen from the top since it moved to the first position in 1994, America has rebounded back into the leading spot.

The question many ask is whether or not last year’s slight decline signals the beginning of a downward trend. But historically, America has been capable of recognizing and dealing with a real or perceived loss of competitiveness. This is part of our culture — the U.S. always seems to find the means to reinvent itself and bounce back from adversity.  

In fact, data show that the fundamentals of U.S. competitiveness are still by far the strongest in the world. The economy has grown faster than any other major developed nation over the past decade.

Among the many reasons why the U.S. holds the No. 1 competitiveness ranking is due to its sheer size: Its share of world GDP at market prices is 24 percent and its world share of exports almost 10 percent.

By the end of 2010, the U.S. regained its place as the world’s second-largest exporter of goods, which it lost in 2007, and remains the world’s biggest importer at a staggering $2.3 trillion of merchandise and services from abroad.

But we need to recognize that the horizon, although bright, is somewhat troubled. In competitiveness, the U.S. is no longer alone at the top. This year its ranking is shared with Hong Kong, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Canada and Qatar, which all are less than 10 points behind the U.S.

The U.S. remains addicted to foreign borrowing and it has lost ground in government efficiency with a 19th-place ranking (down from eighth place in 2001).

And the gap between America’s government and business efficiency has been widening. This creates an environment where business and government no longer support one another, and risks pushing companies and jobs overseas.

The U.S. has also fallen behind in its basic infrastructure (roads, highways, railroads, airports) and its Internet connectivity. There is an urgent need to build state-of-the-art facilities and advanced high-tech networks.

And most importantly, despite the excellent reputation of America’s leading universities, the U.S. still needs to address a dysfunctional primary and secondary educational system.

Promoting post-high-school training, similar to European apprenticeship programs, especially in technical and IT skills, is key to maintaining a highly qualified workforce.

So, yes America, there is work to be done in order to guarantee future competitiveness. But, as Americans, we should take pride in our country’s past and present accomplishments. America continues to bounce back, even if we moan and groan about the sacrifices made in order to do so.

Suzanne Rosselet-McCauley is deputy director of the World Competitiveness Center at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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