September 27, 2010

There Is No U.S.

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Open up any recent issue of the New York Times and you can be sure to find a headline on one of many Chinese triumphs often accompanied by another story on American woes. It’s nothing new. While China is taking the lead in green energy technology, we are still entangled in a debate over the legitimacy of global warming. While their economy efficiently surges ahead — recently becoming the second largest in the world by surpassing Japan — ours struggles to return to its former glory. Even Thomas L. Friedman’s lamentations over our beloved country seem to be in overdrive these past few weeks.  Shouldn’t we be worried? After all, it is us against them. West versus East. Democracy against Communism. They are two nations stuck in an inescapable zero-sum game. Therefore, must not we, proud Americans, do everything we can to protect America?Not necessarily. It’s a pity to see that our politicians have still not faced reality. America’s clout in the world is slowly fading away and we — especially our Cornell seniors who are entering the job market — have to adapt. Just take a look at the biggest names participating at the recent career fair. Hoping to work on Wall Street? You might have better chances of finding a job in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Shenzhen, a city in China I bet you never knew existed. Asian cities are rapidly rising in the Global Financial Centers Index in the past few years and will eventually overtake their Western counterparts. Not interested in finance? For engineers, General Electric is the second largest multinational corporation in the world and is becoming more and more reliant on foreign workers. The ratio of U.S.-based workers to non-U.S. based workers was 1.15 to 1 in 2001, down from 4 to 1 in 1990. In fact, its largest research and development center is located in India. Similarly, General Motors, though our government owns around 60 percent of the company, sells more cars in China than it does domestically. Hoping to work in the hotel business? The largest hotel chain, the Intercontinental Hotel, is based in the United Kingdom and has established 25 hotel schools in China in hopes of tapping the talents of the country’s youth.  The world is not just flattening; it’s shrinking. Just look at our University today. We have people from every corner of the country, from every inhabited continent. The figure that we should be focused on now isn’t whether we have students from all 50 states but if we have students from all 194 nations. For undergraduates, international students comprise 8.7 percent of the student body. That means almost one in every 10 students you see on campus is from another country. The figure is even more startling for our graduate and professional schools: One in three graduate students is an international. The political borders and geographic barriers are slowly falling. What does this mean for us and our futures? First, it means we have to unhinge from the belief that the world is centered on us — America. And we have to start to realize the world is larger than what we see on CNN, that there are more happenings in the world outside of Iraq, Lindsay Lohan and political sex scandals. It is imperative that we abandon the comfort of our insularity and reject the illusion that our nation is still at its prime. The fact is that a post-American world is quietly becoming realized and it is a world in which the term “nationality” will become more and more obsolete. Secondly, it means that the solutions to problems — finance, education, politics, environment — will no longer find their roots solely in American ingenuity, but in the exchange of ideas between cultures. Most likely, it won’t be an American who will solve the looming energy crisis but a medley of scientists from all corners of the globe who have collaborated with eachother. And finally, we have to realize that this trend is not reversible. The United States is not a monolith that acts in uniformity. It is composed of free thinking individuals, each pursuing opportunities to get ahead. As the world becomes more interconnected and opportunities abroad become easier to access, Americans will become attracted to them, which will only lead to greater accessibility, generating a self-perpetuating cycle. But it isn’t a bad thing. As long as we Cornellians are prepared and flexible, we can certainly excel in the age of globalization and should not be too worried about our employment prospects. There will be demand if we look far enough. At the recent United Nations summit, China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao claimed, “China’s development is an opportunity to the world.” Empty rhetoric or not, China is in a position to surpass our economy around 2020, and once it does, we will be forced to engage the awakening giant, as well as other rising nations to our south and west. For us Americans — whatever that means anymore — it is time to think outside of the red, white and blue box. Steven Zhang is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at szhang@cornellsun.com. The Bigger Picture appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Steven Zhang