Openness does help

Chrystia Freeland, the U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, picks up Innovation Nation and finds a pessimistic message:

As billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad told me last month: “Frankly, in America we’ve become fat, dumb and happy.” In his new book Innovation Nation , John Kao echoes Broad: “We are rapidly becoming the fat, complacent Detroit of nations”.

Part of what Broad and Kao are responding to is the rebalancing of relativeglobal wealth and power prompted by the collapse of communism and the rise of emerging markets, especially India and China. This is the great good news of our age, but I understand how it can feel uncomfortable for America to adjust to being merely first among equals.

But they also are worried that something more dangerous than thisflattening of the Earth is taking place. As Kao puts it: “Just as we are beginning to slack off, others are stepping on the gas”.

On this point, foreigner though I am, I’d like to urge them, and their fellow Americans, to be a little more, well, optimistic. It’s true that the balance sheets of the nation’s households, banks and, indeed, the nation itself are looking strained at the moment. And a few decades of prosperity have created a country which, as Kao notes, “spends more on astrology than astronomy”.

My worries about the current situation of the U.S. spurred me to write the book, certainly. But I remain hugely optimistic about the nation’s ability to reinvigorate and reinvent itself. One of the reasons for my optimism is the openness identified by Freeland. Chapter seven of the book is largely dedicated to a discussion of the importance of openness in many forms. Here’s Freeland’s view:

America has one great strength that inclines me to bet that it will not only work its way out of the subprime mess, but also retain a comfortable position of global economic leadership. That strength is openness…

Openness is valuable in and of itself – once we are safe and fed, liberty is an enduring human need. But even if that sounds to you like the abstraction of a latte-drinking liberal, I think you will agree that openness – to money, to ideas, to people – is one of the most important drivers of which economies will flourish and which ones will founder in the coming century.

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