January 1 1992 by Chief Executive
Chief Executive asked Intel’s Andy Grove, Fifth Circuit Federal Judge Edith Jones, Harvard historian Richard Pipes, and Cal Tech computer scientist Carver Mead to reply to a group of critical and related questions on the future: “From your perspective, what is the greatest challenge we face as a society? Will we meet this challenge? If not, why? If so, how?” Their answers follow in Part Two of a two-part series. Part One (see November/December 1991, pp. 28-38) featured the responses of former Citicorp CEO Walter Wriston, former Oxford historian and Yale professor Sir Michael Howard, U.S. Assistant Education Secretary Diane Ravitch, California Governor Pete Wilson, and H.J. Heinz CEO Tony O’Reilly.
I should warn you I am not a raving optimist. In fact, I am filled with trepidation for the future of the
I see a gradual erosion of industrial capability, segment by segment, and increasing dependence on foreign countries for high-technology products. I see a lot of transplanted factories putting products together here, but the key work, the high-tech design and development work, is all being done abroad. There is more. Our educational system is continuing to drift sideways. The
All this bodes pretty poorly for our wealth-creating ability and therefore our standard of living over the next several years. If these trends are not addressed soon, I believe our standard of living by the end of the century will be no better and probably worse than it is today.
The good news is that we still have the strength and the capability to turn things around. What we need is a national reindustrialization drive. We need determination that our nation’s technological capabilities will be second to none. We need to do that because we want to leave a legacy to our children, and a standard of living that will improve rather than deteriorate. Those two things go hand in hand in an industrialized society. So a drive toward reindustrialization is what I would go after.
In 1957, shortly after I got here from
Admittedly, the drive to be the first to the moon captures the national imagination more easily than the fact that our telecommunication technologies in this country are in pathetic shape. People view technology as somewhat esoteric; so there isn’t a huge groundswelling of national concern around the issues of technological infrastructure and improved manufacturing, but these are issues that nevertheless need to be addressed if we want to be competitive.
But this doesn’t mean that the citizens of the
This problem is big enough that it requires government action to even stabilize the situation, let alone turn it around. And the
A drive toward national industrial excellence, toward reindustrialization, is what we need in this country. But it can’t be like the other “wars” our government sponsors: the war on drugs, the battle for education, the war to protect the environment, etc. One more slogan is not going to accomplish anything. It has to be something far beyond a slogan if we really want it to work.
Leaders lead when there is an opportunity to do so. Nobody in recent years has tried to lead a comprehensive, thoughtful drive along reindustrialization lines. I think the American public is ready to respond to such a campaign. We need leaders who both understand these issues and are not afraid to act decisively to address them. Such leaders, which we haven’t had for a generation, could provide the key we need to turning this country around.
Four “visions” for the year 2000 have come to mind in response to your question-only one of which directly concerns my profession. First, I hope that by the year 2000 we will have taken some serious steps to alleviate crime. Initially, more people must be jailed and actually serve time. That should lead to more security of person and property in the poor areas of our country-as well as in the more affluent areas. Crime particularly hurts poor people because there is no way one can concentrate on self-improvement, on getting educated, on holding down a job, if you’ve got to be dodging bullets every night. And that is literally what it is like in some areas now.
Second, I hope we see a total, unabashed return to the three “R’s” in education. We have to encourage conditions that are favorable at least to completing high school, but then the schools have to return to the idea, not of teaching everybody to have a good opinion of themselves, but to make them achieve a positive self-image through academic accomplishment. To me, this is a cross-cultural requirement, not an elitist notion. Any child who works at it can learn to read well, but you need practice. Likewise in math, you have to do practice problems and you have to do homework. There is a black principal here in Houston, in a school in the poorest neighborhood, who is considered controversial simply because he runs a very disciplined environment. He stands the children up in the morning, and they march around chanting the multiplication tables in first and second grade, and then they recite their other lessons in a very organized fashion. As a result, more children from that school have gone to college than from most of our other underprivileged schools. I would focus on teaching the basics in math, English, science, and history from the standpoint of knowledge, not just “skills.” We also ought to start language training in earlier grades because we are going to be competing on a global basis, and it behooves us to learn the language and cultures of other countries.
Third, we need to change the structure of our Social Security welfare net. Since we have been favored with tremendous advances in medicine, almost everybody is going to live past 65. At the same time, demographically, we are experiencing a steady decline in the number of workers who pay Social Security taxes. I do not want my children’s generation to have to support a much larger number of baby boomers in retirement. We ought to be able to avoid such a catastrophe in the future. I don’t think people who are elderly now should suffer any reduction in their benefits. What I am saying is that we need to make a radical change in the Social Security system to encourage retirement saving, and we need to start acknowledging that since we are living so long, we are going to have to work longer. We shouldn’t retire at 65 if we’re in the peak of health, as many people are. And, of course, increasing savings for our old age will in turn create capital for our economy, which will produce even more benefits.
As for the judicial system by the year 2000, certainly our Founders didn’t make a mistake in setting up a tripartite system of government, and the judiciary are still a very powerful brake on the tendency of the executive or the legislative bodies to accrete more power to themselves. The judiciary is always there as an ultimate backstop. From another standpoint, however, we are reaching a crisis in our judicial system. The number of federal cases stands at a high level, and they are generating a record number of appeals. Our appeals courts are responsible for maintaining a body of federal laws. But there are so many appeals now that you cannot say that the federal courts are harmonizing the law, because as the number of opinions proliferates like rabbits, it becomes harder for us judges sitting in teams of three on an appeals court to be able to garner all the opinions in one area and to look at them objectively, and assess them, and then create a plan for the future. As that is true, it becomes harder for the people on the outside to determine what the law is. As a result, a business lawyer, for instance, cannot give clients real assurance on what might happen in a certain area when there are as many binding interpretations as there are appeals courts. This results in companies taking the safest course, which in many cases inhibits business progress. Public institutions and individuals are equally deterred by such uncertainty as it affects their affairs. We will shortly need some very serious changes in our federal judiciary, in an effort to perform our role of ensuring a uniform system of law.
At the highest level, we’re part of a species that’s evolving, and one of the things we’re seeing is that we’re going through an evolution towards a more civilized creature. And you can see this, despite all the ups and downs and the obvious kind of backlashes, in Eastern Europe, in the Persian Gulf War-with the enormously less loss of life, although there was plenty, but compared with prior wars there was much less loss of life. It sure beats WWI or WWII or even
In the corporate world you can see an evolution towards much more humane management practices, as compared with the beginning of this century when human beings were held to be cogs in a machine-little pieces of the industrial mechanism. We now see human beings as our premium resource in the creative endeavor that is business nowadays, and this is really heartening. One hears people talk about win-win business arrangements. You didn’t used to hear that; instead you heard about putting the competition out of business. Today people are realizing that this is a positive-sum economy, not a negative-sum economy, and one of the important reasons for all that is that we have evolved from an economy that is based on materials and energy to an economy based on information. And information has a wonderful property that if I give it to you, it doesn’t take anything away from me.
Information is now the basic stuff on which our economy runs. This thing of value in our economy, information, doesn’t have the property that if I give it to you I don’t have it anymore. It is a different kind of asset, and people are gradually beginning to see that we are in a different kind of economy because the product is different. It’s going to take a long time, of course, to get our social practices and our corporate practices aligned with the new realities, but it is happening. I believe that what is happening in the
Although it is important to have tough competition to play your best, as in the sports model, in the information economy all the players can win. There is nothing about what is happening today that would prevent us and the Japanese both from winning. In fact, if we don’t do that, we’re crazy. If we can’t cause that to happen, then it will be because we did something wrong, not the other way around. The potential is there for an incredible positive-sum interaction with the Japanese. We have very worthy endeavors in the free economic world, and that is changing the whole face of the globe. And at the heart of this, we can see that it is the nature of information which is changing the face of business-that is the zero order thing.
Then, on top of this, we will have to build a viable economy, and a viable political system. We still haven’t made any inroads with our political system to take advantage of the fact that there is a whole new technology and a whole new world out there. We’re still doing politics as we always did, but that will have to change.
And the country that gets that one going will have prosperity for the next hundred years. So if you ask me what can we do in this decade, it would be to get the precepts of the information age into our educational system and into our political system. Just the technology we have today is enough to make magnificent changes in both of those arenas.
We are limited, not by our technology, but by the way we think. We still think just the way we thought two hundred years ago, as if nothing had happened. We simply have to change that, we have to get smarter. Thank God our kids all have computers because they’ll figure it out. We can do this. We have the wherewithal. The question is: Are we going to allow it to happen, or are we going to keep mashing down on it and try to hold onto the status quo? But
By the year 2000 the traditional animosities among the major industrial powers are likely to decline, and we will be confronting tremendous pressures from over-populated
Americans have always been very helpful people, and we are ready to help now. But we have always been more willing to give goods and materials than to engage in serious massive programs helping underdeveloped countries suffering from all these ills. A recent novel showed boat loads of people from
In Kuwait, when the war started, it was revealed that the native population was no more than 20 percent and the other 80 percent were immigrants who did all the labor for them. This is another example of the horrendous problems that are being caused by the migration from the poor countries to the rich ones. This is happening right now with the Albanians in
My vision of the future is somewhat negative and frightening because I know we are dealing with some of the most massive problems faced by mankind. At home and abroad, crime is the number one problem because it is a social sickness. We have underprivileged groups in this country. The blacks, for example, are a legacy of slavery, but slavery stopped a long time ago. The blacks should be helped, but one is not doing them any favor by giving them quotas and the like. I think they should be helped, but up to a point-beyond that they should be on their own. This is one aspect of the
On the other hand my vision is very positive. I am an optimist, and these problems are soluble. It is a question whether we are willing to solve them, and it is not just a matter of money, although money plays a part, it is mainly a question of attitudes. We are used to wars between