America Has Lost Its Competitive Edge

Question: Why has America led the world in innovation for so many decades?

Jimmy Carter: Well America has always been a country of innovation and dynamism, entrepreneurship. And I think that one of the things that has made our country great too is its heterogeneous population where people come here from all over the world. And quite often, the people who do leave their own nation and come to an unknown destination, like the United States, are inherently adventurous, so we’ve had that adventurous spirit that has embedded itself collectively in the American consciousness.

I think all of those factors combined have made it possible for us to be in the forefront of change, social change as we had to accommodate people from different societies and different religions and so forth, and also changes that have taken place in innovative science because America has had the best university system in the world for a long time. And so we have been innovators, not only in the discoveries as proven by Nobel Prizes in chemistry and physics and that sort of thing, but we’ve been able to put that into practical application with new gadgets that people admire.

Question: Is America falling behind?

Jimmy Carter: We’ve had a serious problem in our country in recent, I’d say few decades, in becoming more inclined toward consumption and gratification on how much we own, rather than having a spirit of innovation and dynamism and producing new products. It was in the 1970s that our nation first became a consumer nation, that is, we bought from foreigners more than we sold to foreigners. And increasingly, that has been a blight on our economic system—increasingly every year. And now we have an enormous trade deficit, that is we buy from foreign nations, particularly China and others, a lot more than we sell them. And it means that they are producing the products that we use. And we used to be the main producer of goods to be sold to our competitive nations that were fairly well off, in particular to the countries that were very poor. That’s changed now.

So I think we’ve lost the competitive edge that we had a number of years ago.

Recorded November 30, 2010
Interviewed by Andrea Useem

America has been the most innovative nation of the past century. But decades of consumption beyond its means have robbed the country of its competitive edge, says the former President.

Why the ocean you know and love won’t exist in 50 years

Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?

Videos
  • Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
  • The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
  • If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
Keep reading Show less

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Health care: Information tech must catch up to medical marvels

Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's CEO, believes we're entering the age of smart medicine.

Photo: Tom Werner / Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The United States health care system has much room for improvement, and big tech may be laying the foundation for those improvements.
  • Technological progress in medicine is coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology.
  • As information technology develops, patients will become active participants in their health care, and value-based care may become a reality.
Keep reading Show less