This report addresses the possibility that our lack of preparation will reduce the ability of the United States to compete in such a world. Many underlying issues are technical; some are not. Some are “political”—not in the sense of partisan politics, but in the sense of “bringing the rest of the body politic along.” Scientists and engineers often avoid such discussions, but the stakes are too high to keep silent any longer.
Friedman’s term quiet crisis, which others have called a “creeping crisis,” is reminiscent of the folk tale about boiling a frog. If a frog is dropped into boiling water, it will immediately jump out and survive. But a frog placed in cool water that is heated slowly until it boils won’t respond until it is too late.
Our crisis is not the result of a one-dimensional change; it is more than a simple increase in water temperature. And we have no single awakening event, such as Sputnik. The United States is instead facing problems that are developing slowly but surely, each like a tile in a mosaic. None by itself seems sufficient to provoke action. But the collection of problems reveals a disturbing picture—a recurring pattern of abundant short-term thinking and insufficient long-term investment. Our collective reaction thus far seems to presuppose that the citizens of the United States and their children are entitled to a better quality of life than others, and that all Americans need do is circle the wagons to defend that entitlement. Such a presupposition does not reflect reality and neither recognizes the dangers nor seizes the opportunities of current circumstances. Furthermore, it won’t work.
In 2001, the Hart–Rudman Commission on national security, which foresaw large-scale terrorism in America and proposed the establishment of a cabinet-level Homeland Security organization before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, put the matter this way:4
The inadequacies of our system of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine.
President George W. Bush has said
“Science and technology have never been more essential to the defense of the nation and the health of our economy.”5