Thursday, February 17, 2005

Crying Wolf

I remember certain frightening headlines from back in the early 1980s like "US Falling Behind Japan in Science Education". According to the articles accompanying these headlines, the US was headed for disaster because students had forsaken technical degrees. It was widely predicted that the US would fall behind Japan and the Soviet Union in technical competence. Well, we all know what happened to the Soviet Union (for those of you younger readers out there, the Soviet Union was a big bad communist confederation dominated by the Russians) and Japan has endured more than a decade of economic stagnation. The United States, on the other hand, has simply led the world in productivity increases, largely due to -- you guessed it -- its continued technical dominance, especially in areas like computing and telecommunications.

Jump ahead to 2005. Once again the doomsayers have resurfaced, claiming that the United States is in danger of losing its technical edge, this time due, in part, to the Patriot Act, which allegedly erects a barrier to talented foreign students. The proposed remedy: more government spending.

Word to the wise: the technology boom of the 1990s was not a result of a massive government spending program. It was the result of the private sector recognizing the limitless potential of a technology (ARPANet) that the Department of Defense had adapted only for limited purposes (wartime communications redundancy). Who brought this technology to the masses? American college students named Marc Andreesen and Eric Brina.

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