Is America Toast?


As President Obama rolls out a plan to kick-start innovation, three of the country's top business minds talked to Randall Lane about economic reinvention. Edited excerpts:

What will drive innovation in the next decade?

Paul Saffo, managing director of Foresight, Discern Analytics: The new economy turned out to be a lot more complicated, but also a lot more interesting. The central actor is not the worker--the person who produces--nor the person who consumes, but [someone] who does both things at the same time. My preferred term for it is "creator economy." In the ordinary course of our day, we may think we are engaging in the act of consumption, but, in fact, we are producing something. A perfect example: Google. What does your Google subscription cost? Zero. Well, if you're not paying anything for Google, how come the two Google founders and Eric Schmidt are all richer than God? How does that work? Well, you pay for Google. You just don't realize you pay for Google because you give them something you think is worthless--the search string you put in. And that little search string, that little piece of digital haiku, when aggregated with all the other search strings, is the basis for their business model.

Tim Brown, president, Ideo: We're seeing a shift from a world that's top-down--where we think about everything in its completeness--to a world of bottom-up, where new ideas and new practices emerge and are iterated to their mature version. We only need to think about social networks. They're not things. They're behaviors.

Where does America sit in all this?

Saffo: This will sound pessimistic, but it's a better-than-even chance that the U.S. will not exist as a nation by midcentury. …

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