Meet The New Boss

Politics

Say goodbye to the American century. It may soon be over.



As grandly proclaimed by Time magazine's Henry Luce, the 20th century became the American Century with the United States defeating Nazism and Communism while building the world's greatest economy.



Those of us still around in 20 years will look back on that time fondly, because the 21st century is set to become the China Century (if the not India Century).



China has been the most populous country in the world for a good long time. As it continues the transition to a market-based economy, China's size and drive virtually guarantees it will become the most dominant economic (if not military) player on the world stage.



Will this have an impact on Georgia? It already is.



The Public Service Commission recently voted to give Georgia Power the largest fuel cost recovery allowance in history, authorizing the company to jack up its electricity bills to compensate for the higher price of buying coal to run its generating plants.



This increase, which will cost the state's largest business and industrial users millions of dollars a year, is directly attributable to China. Georgia Power planned to purchase major quantities of cleaner-burning coal from the Central Appalachian region to run its power plants, but increased economic activity in China sucked up much of that coal, thus driving up the price Georgia Power had to pay.



China's voracious appetite for the basic resources of industry is pushing up prices for other key commodities as well. One person who knows this all too well is Harold Linnenkohl, the commissioner of Georgia's Department of Transportation.



DOT pays for huge quantities of raw materials used in building the state's highways. "They're driving up the cost of our steel and concrete, because it's all going to China," Linnenkohl says. "They're taking a lot of the building materials over there. Asphalt, which used to cost us $32 to $34 a ton, now averages to $38 to $50 a ton."



Linnenkohl, along with his peers from other states, traveled to China in April to scope out that country's transportation infrastructure. What he saw is a nation committed to building a highway system equivalent to the U.S. interstate system in one quarter of the time.



"They're building 50,000 miles of roads, which took us about 40 years to build," Linnenkohl says. "They say they'll do it in 11 years. They'll just keep draining everybody."



Linnenkohl also saw one of the major reasons why the coming century could see the torch of economic leadership pass from the Americans to the Asians. Everywhere he went, the Chinese asked him for pointers on how to do things better, faster, cheaper.



"They are starving for knowledge," he says. "They really want it. They want to pick our brains for everything. They're trying to get as much information as they can."



China, India and the rest of Asia have set aside religious and political dogma to concentrate on the pursuit of pure knowledge. While American school boards try to stop the teaching of evolution and our president vows to veto funding for stem cell research, Asians are plowing ahead with leading-edge research into all areas of hard science.



You can see this thirst for knowledge in Georgia's public universities. During the past academic year, the top three foreign countries whose students received degrees from University System institutions were, in order, India, China and Korea.



Go sit in on any graduate-level class in physics or computer science at Georgia Tech and compare the number of Asian students to the number of American students. You may be surprised - or alarmed - at what you'll find.



Intel's Hungarian-born founder, Andrew Grove, has been trying to sound a warning bell about Asian competition by pointing out that in America, only 5 percent of college students major in engineering or science while in Asia, the number is 30 to 40 percent. He must have been visiting the Georgia Tech campus.



Little wonder, then, that Linnenkohl says of China, "That's really the country we ought to be looking out for."



He may be on to something. China is eating up all of our knowledge and basic resources. India is eating up all of our jobs. Before long, they may be eating our lunch as well.






Tom Crawford, editor of the Capitolimpact.com news service, covers politics for Georgia Trend.



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