USA is falling behind – I told you so…

Yesterday I heard on the Situation Room on CNN that the past decade has seen a tremendous economic decline of the US. The U.S. GDP’s stake in the global economy shrunk from 32% to 24% in the past decade. That is the worst decline of any nation except for the collapse of the Soviet Union, they said. Which brings to mind that the same professor who accurately predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse also has predicted that the US global empire will collapse. He moved up the year when G.W. Bush became president, to in the middle of the decade that is now starting.

When I moved to the US in 2002 I was surprised to find a country that was almost obsolete in terms of technology compared to Europe (GSM and SMS had almost no penetration, for instance), and which was very inefficient in many aspects in terms of how basic everyday things are done. Several sectors are totally dysfunctional in comparison to Europe, banking and health insurance being by far the worst. There seems to be no functioning competition (I later learned that health insurance as a business sector is actually allowed to fix prices by law, but they have no law that requires them to provide insurance). Also the government bureaucracy is inefficient. In comparison, Sweden – with a government bureaucracy that is known to be meticulous – appears as a miracle of speed and simplicity. While in Sweden you typically can file your taxes on a GSM mobile phone, in the U.S. it typically requires the assistance of a paid professional.

What shocked me was the discordance. At the same time as the U.S. had a GDP per capita that was one third higher than any other country, they seemed to be at least one third less efficient at what they were doing. Most things in the stores were imported from China, and the U.S. didn’t produce much that the rest of the world wanted to buy. Their insistence on using their own measurement system instead of the metric system pretty much disqualified their products from any application in which they have to be interfaced to anything else, or to be repaired abroad – a disadvantage that pretty much affects all manufactured goods. The Chinese have solved this by making a unique U.S. version for export using the U.S. measurement system instead of the metric one, but here in the U.S. it is so hard and costly to find metric raw materials for producing metric products for export, that it becomes totally impossible to produce items for export at competitive prices (keep in mind that the costs here already are the highest, even without this handicap).

Already in 2002 I thus predicted that the U.S. economy would collapse, for lack of competitiveness. Unfortunately, rather than realizing the situation and changing with the times, the Americans have been told by their leaders and media that the U.S. is the best country in the world. The impression they have got is that they are the best, and that they have something to teach the rest of the world rather than learn from it. And so the downfall has become inevitable.

The solution is of course to fix the systemic problems that caused this in the first time, as I have said to anybody who has cared to listen since 2002: Regulate banks so they have to provide good and timely services at a reasonable price, and ban immoral practices that are hurting the economy; regulate the health insurance so that every legal resident has access to health care, no exceptions, and so that everyone who is able to pitches in to pay for it; streamline the government, make different branches cooperate directly with each other, remove private consultants and build the competence within the government instead, and drastically reduce the number of politically appointed persons in favor of staff hired based on competence; switch to the metric system not just on paper but in reality as well; and finally, stop destroying money and other countries alike by wasting trillions on the military, and invest money instead in educating the young Americans, with free education all the way up to college level.

Those are 5 areas of action that I believe are essential for turning the country around. It includes giving up the Empire. The Bush notion that the U.S. can be a global empire has to be abandoned. It is possible for a time, but the price is that after this limited time, the homeland will be destroyed financially, and it will take a hundred years to come back. This is not guesswork, it is just a matter of using empirical data from history. The U.S. is far from the first country to try to turn into an almighty empire. It always ends the same way, even if the details differ.

The only thing that can keep the U.S. ahead is brains. The first step is to become aware of the reality. Given the horribly inadequate news reporting in the U.S. one might be tempted to conclude that the underlying reason for the collapse is the collapse of the TV News in America, which happened about two decades ago as a result of president Reagan’s deregulation. So to the list can be added to create a tax-funded TV and radio News service that is totally free from any advertising and sponsoring money, and that has to be un-biased and objective, with some sort of oversight and complaints system. NPR and PBS today are total jokes.

Can this be done? Yes, definitely. Will it be done? No, I don’t think so, because there is no political will, and no political possibility, due to the way the U.S. constitution is written. Ultimately, I believe the U.S. needs a constitutional reform that changes the form of government to a parliamentarian republic, with a prime minister alongside the president, and with proportional representation. Only by strengthening democracy in such a way do I think it is possible to defeat the powerful special interests that have now shot themselves in the foot so badly.

8 thoughts on “USA is falling behind – I told you so…”

  1. Dear Dr. Erlingsson,

    Thank you for your remarks about U.S. metrication. We at the U.S. Metric Association (USMA), Inc., have been working for the achievement of this national goal since 1916.

    It used to be that the U.S. was a messenger of change and improvement, but, sadly, we have become the dog instead of the leash. We are not the nation of ideas we used to be.

    Slowly, however, the metric system has advanced behind the scenes here. In 1988, Congress declared it to be the preferred system of measurement for U.S. trade and commerce. A small but symbolically important regulation allowing metric-only product labeling at the state level has been endorsed by all jurisdictions except New York and Alabama. And, U.S. metrication has been getting regular support on the Nation’s editorial pages.

    However, there is still a silence on the subject in America. Virtually none of our leaders has stepped to the microphone to urge the changeover. As Public Relations Director for USMA, it is my mission to break that silence, and I want 2010, the “decimal year,” to be the year we do that.


    Paul Trusten, R.Ph
    Public Relations Director, USMA

    1. Thank you for that comment. As you say, most Americans are not aware of the problem. They just see the difficulty of learning something new, and fail to understand that the metric system is not just another system, but that it makes it much easier to understand the world, the physics, the laws of nature. It also makes it much easier in manufacturing (fractions of inches are a pain, and to then add mils just makes it a headache). The only area where inches and feet are, admittedly, easier to use is in building. But even in countries where the metric system has been used for over a century, timber and such is still measured in inches and feet by custom. Switching does not mean that one has to give up what is good with the old.

  2. I was glad to read your intelligent comments. If I had my “druthers”, I would start with educating the educators. What I view as the greatest obstacle to the introduction of SI in the USA is the lack of higher level public education. It is hard to conceive that students will learn about correct prefixes and their meanings without easy-to-read handbooks and teachers who themselves also understand the system. Most youngsters can hardly tell the difference between capital letters and small letters of the alphabet. Both in computer science and in the correct use of SI the difference can be profound. For instance, the bottling industry for the past twenty years has been steadily producing glass wine bottles with the inscription 750 ML, which means 750 million litres. So far no one in charge spoke up to correct this silly mistake. Creating a dedicated core educator group is imperative if we want to make any progress in the United States.

  3. A very observant and to the point assessment of America’s self inflicted woes. Some Americans are fully aware of that problem when they talk of their dysfunctional federal system/democracy. That problem, as you rightly point out has to be sheathed home to its horse and buggy constitution. Among other urgently needed reforms Ameria’s repeated failures to introduce the metric system confirms that. Put into a nutshell the problem seems to be this: in most other democracies it is government by the people for the people while Americans seem to prefer government by business for business. One has only to mention lobbying and the monetary influence this gives business on representatives election and re-election.

  4. Among other urgently needed reforms Ameria’s repeated failures to introduce the metric system confirms that. Put into a nutshell the problem seems to be this: in most other democracies it is government by the people for the people while Americans seem to prefer government by business for business. One has only to mention lobbying and the monetary influence this gives business on representatives election and re-election.

  5. Ulf, you are wrong that the Chinese have solved this by making a unique U.S. version for export using the U.S. measurement system instead of the metric one.

    They sell the US the same metric manufactured parts they sell everyone else. For US use, they just mark the labels in obsolete units and give Americans the illusion it isn’t metric.

    It would cost a fortune to design, produce and keep track of products that vary by a millimetre or two just so an American can have a product with a rounded number of inches.

    Becasue everything imported into America is fully metric, every American needs a metric set of wrenchs and tools to do any service work.

    The need for America to metricate is not as great now as it was in the past, simply because American industry chose to go elsewhere to produce their goods in metric units. What a waste of money it would be to train a resistant population when it is so much easier to close the business and relocate to a country where the metric system is used and appreciated.

    It will be interesting if history will show that America’s failure to metricate was the catalyst to its collapse.

    1. In many instances you are right, but there are exceptions, notably tools and machines. I have a lathe and a mill made in China, on which they have replaced the metric feed with inch feed. Thus, I can made inch threads on the lathe but not metric threads, and I have to make dimensions in fractions and mils on the lathe. There are 62.5 mils per revolution, 16 revolutions per inch. And this is better than metric in what way?

      You know, I think this metric association should publish a book called Metricification for Dummies. Maybe then it would be understood… 😉

    2. That is not the same thing. The machine itself is designed, engineered, and made in metric. The screws holding it together are metric. Even that inch screw is made metric. The mechanical drawings would show all of the dimensions of the part in millimetres.

      Just because they make it so you can make inch threads on it doesn’t mean that they can’t also put a different part in the mill that will cut in a different unit.

      Where I work, we have some older Italian made boring mills that are entirely metric except for the dials used to set the feeds and speeds. The dials can be easily changed to metric and the machine can be set to metric feeds and speeds. Every nut and bolt holding it together is metric. If you want to repair your machine, you will need metric tools. If you want to replace the parts they will need to be metric.

      The main problem with using non-metric units is you become part of a minority. Not being metric limits your ability to sell what you make to a greater audience and not being metric also keeps you outside the loop when it comes to newer metric designed technology. It costs you more to make the metric parts.

      Who outside the US would have a need or want for the inch threaded parts you produce?

      Metric is more than a measurement system it is the foundation of all of the world’s standards. Think ISO & IEC. Because of their use of the metric system, the metric is the universal standard.

      I admit there are rare and obscure places where non-metric clings on, and unless there is some financial advantage to cling to the obsolete measures, the continued use of the obsolete measures will destructive.

      Maybe the dummies are too dumb to understand so it will be a futile effort. Best to let the US collapse and then start over.

Comments are closed.