Empires come, empires go.
It started with Egyptians where modern civilization all began. They blew it.
The power moved around the world like an Olympian torch. It touched old Babylon; Greece; Rome; England; …; in no special order until it became the time for Americans. Yes, we are living in the American empire-the indisputable all powerful nation whom when its president sneezes, the world awakes.
Think about it: knowledge has always correlated with economic power. In the time of the Pharaohs, we knew they had the best philosophers. Most of the wisest men were in Egypt. They had technology and were the best farmers. Around that River Nile, they invented some of the best ideas on geometry in their quest to conquer hunger.
We had the Greeks. Remember the Aristotle, The Socrates and all those big names they taught us in Philosophy courses in first year of college (at least in Nigeria). These legends created knowledge and made Greek symbols universal means of mathematical communication.
In the golden decades of industrial revolution, there were the Oxford and Cambridge. Those good days, British lads were encouraged to study science, medicine and engineering. Soon afterwards, they had better ideas. They started transforming the best British schools to the seat of Law and Philosophy. And the industrial revolution lost steam.
Finally, the torch went to Americans. But it was not an accident. Right from independence in 1776 when American patriots defeated the British, they had ambitions. Immediately, the Yankees adopted and implemented policies that would take them to that glory- to become the shining city on the hill and most prosperous nation on earth.
While researching my recent book last year, I noticed that the Scottish economist Adam Smith had proposed for the Americans to focus on raw materials and agriculture. He was of the opinion and based on the fact that America was just a plantation then, that the US had that nonsense comparative advantage to be a leader in commodity. Hell No, the Americans refused.
Rather, they went ahead and created the best innovation engine in the world through inventing capitalism on the tripod of citizens, business and governments. They knew that without technology, there is no competition and to overtake the British, they pushed resources into technology creation and infrastructural development. While not, this is a country of doers; they had the future of mankind in their hands.
They created technologies after technology; feat after feat. We had the transistor and Bells Lab was nothing but innovation pipeline. Their universities began to innovate. Johns Hopkins introduced the first graduate school in US. It also modernized medical study. Harvard invented business education.
Their national labs were on the move. The citizens had this can do attitude. The government was dreaming big. America was running, never walking. And science was really cool to most of their lads.
But shortly after the death of President Kennedy whose vision that man must set foot on the moon was accomplished in late 1960s, America went into partial hibernation. Those same theories they rejected from Adam Smith, they now embraced them. And lawyers and bankers became the highest paid in this democracy. Engineers dare not because they lose jobs as gamblers playing in Las Vegas casinos. Engineering was not really fun anymore because it gives fairly average pay.
People, we still have the national labs and the research institutes in US, but the urgency and energy that existed in the good old days has waned. Either it is the Congress or the trade policies or the transcending attitude of piling debts by the citizens, many things have changed.
For me the greatest challenge came with the whole idea of creating shareholders value and building wealth at Wall Street. The worship of Wall Street was fundamental in thinking short time and eroding the brutal pragmatism that existed in some of the policies and directions both government and firms took early in the life of America.
Why not, the leaders are mainly lawyers, few are engineers and scientists; scenario very close to the end of the industrial revolution where law was enshrined as the greatest of profession by the British. From commerce to culture, these modern leaders have reinvented America.
And we have got celebrities that speak to government though they could not finish high school. Kids do not know the technology titans and legends like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Page, Brin, Bill Joy, Michael Dell; they are ordinary people. Rather, they worship the likes of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and co.
Ironically, the world does not harbor a vacuum. The US has lost steam; someone has to fill the void. After all, it was exactly the same thing they did to Britain. In that new place Bill Gates is seen as a demi-god because he created not a company, but an industry. Without Mr Gates, there will be no IT industry.