China ascendant; U.S. tech prowess peaked in 1999

China is often seen as just a low-cost manufacturing outpost, but the new “High Tech Indicators” study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology clearly shows that the Asian powerhouse has much bigger aspirations.

The study of worldwide technological competitiveness suggests China will soon pass the U.S. in the critical ability to develop basic science and technology — and then commercialize those developments.

“Since World War II, the United States has been the main driver of the global economy. Now we have a situation in which technology products are going to be appearing in the marketplace that were not developed or commercialized here [in the U.S.]. We won’t have had any involvement with them and may not even know they are coming,” said Nils Newman, co-author of the study.

Georgia Tech’s “High Tech Indicators” study ranks 33 nations relative to one another on “technological standing,” an output factor that indicates each nation’s recent success in exporting high technology products. Four major input factors help build future technological standing: national orientation toward technological competitiveness, socioeconomic infrastructure, technological infrastructure and productive capacity.

A chart showing change in the technological standing of the 33 nations is dominated by one feature – a long and continuous upward line that shows China moving from “in the weeds” to world technological leadership over the past 15 years.

The 2007 statistics show China with a technological standing of 82.8, compared to 76.1 for the U.S., 66.8 for Germany and 66.0 for Japan. Just 11 years ago, China’s score was only 22.5. The U.S. peaked in 1999 with a score of 95.4. Continue reading “China ascendant; U.S. tech prowess peaked in 1999”

The resurgence of anti-business populism; more regulation ahead

We’ve already seen the U.S. presidential candidates embrace populist, anti-corporate appeals. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, has taken whacks at Wall Street. John Edwards, a Democrat, lays out his “stop corporate abuses” manifesto here. There’s a reason they do this: It really resonates with the public, at a time of globalization, job insecurity, outsourcing, mass layoffs, a looming recession, corporate scandals, congressional earmarks for contractors, $100/barrel oil, election campaigns funded by corporate interests (need I go on?)….

And now comes a survey, from public-affairs polling firm Ipsos-Reid, showing that it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon but a global one. Important note: The firm polled 22,000 people in 22 countries — but they didn’t interview just any warm body. The respondents are what the firm calls the “Intelligaged,” people who are online, vote in elections, discuss politics, etc. (see methodology below).

The pollsters concluded that:

…a majority of the world’s most engaged citizens is letting it be known that large companies have too much influence on the decisions of their government and they want a more aggressive crackdown on the activities and influence of national and multinational corporations…

…public opinion among the most active, connected and engaged global citizens is putting global and national corporations at risk for potential government interventions and tighter regulatory incursions because its most elite citizens will back such moves.

Specifically, the Ipsos poll found that:

  • Three quarters (74%) of the “intelligaged” citizens agree that large companies have “too much influence on the decisions” of their government. This was especially true in Latin America (83%) and North America (81%).
  • A full majority (72%) of the “intelligaged” citizens believe that the government of their country “should be more aggressive in regulating the activities of national and multinational corporations.”

Continue reading “The resurgence of anti-business populism; more regulation ahead”

Top five political issues in the U.S., 2007

Top five political issues in the U.S. (November 2007)

Issues cited as either a first or second priority, by all polled adults (regardless of political party)

  1. Iraq (46%)
  2. Health care (34%)
  3. Jobs/economic growth (27%)
  4. Illegal immigration (24%)
  5. Terrorism (23%)

————
Source: Wall Street Journal / NBC News telephone poll of 1,509 adults, conducted in early November (reported 19 November 2007). Note: The margin of error is +/- 2.5 percentage points, so the difference between Nos. 4 and 5 is negligible.

Related: Poll: Americans are gloomy about the future

Five tips for better trend-watching

The folks at Trendwatching.com have a great primer on trend-spotting and -tracking, especially for consumer trends. Here’s my condensed, paraphrased version (be sure to read the whole, entertaining essay if you’re interested in this).

1. Know why you’re tracking trends. It’s probably to help you dream up profitable new goods and services, i.e., “profitable innovation.” Successful innovations often satisfy existing, dormant consumer needs in new and attractive ways. Trend-watching isn’t futurism; it’s about observing and understanding what’s already happening, the major and the minor, the mainstream and the fringe.

2. Have a point of view. Be a generalist, looking for context. Develop a view of the future of consumerism. Look across industries for insights. Ask why something is appealing to consumers, instead of being judgmental.

3. Weave your Web of resources. “[C]elebrate the incredible wealth of trend resources at your fingertips, many of them free or dirt cheap!” Examples of info sources: Web sites, blogs, books, news, newsletters, Google Alerts, trade shows, customers, “eavesdropping, chat rooms, conversations…”

4. Fine-tune your trend framework. Three levels:

  • Macro trends. Categorize them using the STEEP approach: Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political
  • Consumer trends
  • Industry trends

The three levels of trends affect each other. “Just remember that industry trends, which firms are so keen on understanding, are at the mercy of macro and consumer trends, not the other way ’round.” Look for connections among the trends you’re tracking — the matrix. Come up with creative names for the trends, which makes them memorable and interesting.

5. Embed and apply. Create your own, in-house trend group, with executive support. Tap a network of colleagues as trend-spotters. Have weekly or monthly discussions and distribute the results. Ultimately, the goal is to turn the trends into innovations for your company:

  • Influence or shape your company’s vision
  • Come up with a new business concept, venture or brand
  • Add something new for a certain customer segment
  • Speak the language of those consumers already ‘living’ the trend: show them you get it (via marketing, advertising, PR)

Policies needed to soften the blows of globalization

The natives, literally, are restless. Great in theory, globalization isn’t turning out to be all it’s cracked up to be, for those who are losing their jobs. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently acknowledged growing unease about globalization in its annual labor report and worried about a popular backlash, according to press reports.

Now, the businesses that benefit most from free trade are acknowledging the problem, too. A paper commissioned by the Financial Services Forum sets out several policy options “aimed at cushioning the blow from job losses and other dislocations caused by global trade.” The thinking is that, by helping those on the losing end of globalization, businesses can diffuse growing protectionist sentiment, according to The Wall Street Journal (26 June 2007).

The Financial Services Forum report concludes that:

The aggregate gains from global engagement, large though they are, are not evenly shared and do not directly benefit every worker, firm, and community.

  • From the mid-to-late 1970s to the mid-to-late 1990s, the real and relative earnings of less-skilled Americans was poor relative to both economy-wide average productivity gains and also the earnings of their more-skilled counterparts.
  • Since around 2000, the large majority of American workers has seen poor income growth.
  • Global engagement fosters high productivity in American industries, but typically with substantial churn at the level of individual firms, with pervasive shut-down of inefficient plants and even entire companies.
  • Because economic activity tends to be concentrated across American communities, this uneven distribution of globalization’s pressures across workers and firms also means uneven pressures across communities as well.

The bottom line is that today, many American workers feel anxious — about change and about their paychecks. Their concerns are real, widespread, and legitimate.

POLICIES
The typical policy response — retraining — isn’t enough because the relief isn’t fast enough. The report’s new policy ideas include:

  • insuring communities against “sudden economic dislocation” caused by a factory closing
  • merging all worker-assistance programs (e.g., unemployment insurance and trade-adjustment assistance) into one
  • eliminating the payroll tax on incomes less than $32,140

SURVEY
A new survey conducted by the Financial Services Forum and RT Strategies shows that public attitudes towards globalization have dimmed slightly since last year. The most recent poll shows that 49% have a favorable view of globalization, compared with 54% in May of 2006.

However, the survey also found that 67% would have a more favorable view of globalization if policymakers “put in place programs specifically designed to better equip American workers, communities, and firms to participate in, and benefit from, the 21st century global economy, and to help those negatively affected by globalization find new jobs.”