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I have read with interest Michael J. Mandel's "This way to the future" ("The innovation economy," Oct. 11). I have serious doubt, though I hope for the best, that "all the right factors are in place" for the next 75 years to be as innovative as the last 75. On the list "Where changes were explosive" in the past 75 years, it appeared to me that all these inventions were made from 1930 to 1950, the remaining years being mainly a time of development and broadening the range of applications to other fields. Jet planes, radar, computers, atomic energy -- even the concepts of lean management and supply chains -- are somehow all linked to moments in history of strong need.
In a global economy, moments of need grow out of an increasing gap between the quality of life in separate regions, thus explaining how technological advancement is growing so much faster in Asia than in the U.S. Technological advances are always balanced with general quality of life: Where we have high quality, we need little advancement, and vice versa.
Griping about the lack of enough science and technology students seems to me a little overblown. What is important is not technology and science per se. We benefit only from technologies that make our societies wealthier and that make more people live better lives. Why was the U.S. the fastest-growing economy during the golden years, from mid-19th century to the 1930s? Did it have better technology than Britain or other Western European countries? Not exactly. What the U.S. had was a more open economy, entrepreneurial spirit, and propensity to take risks -- the main ingredients essential to the ultimate social prosperity.
During the Iron Curtain years, the Soviet Union had great technology and science in fields such as aviation, applied mathematics, and algorithms, and almost second-to-none mechanical engineering. Yet people there almost starved to death.
As long as the market is left to its forces, all comes to its right place through the free flow of people, capital, ideas, and comparative competitive advantages. Maybe it's not competitive any longer for the U.S. to produce more engineering and science graduates. They start to be produced in abundance and cheaply by India, China -- and why not Vietnam or Iran? Left alone, the market knows better.
The U.S. always had competition in innovation. So why feel threatened? Although it may motivate some, money is not the key to innovation. It always was, and always will be, passion. Louis Pasteur didn't develop vaccines to get rich, but first of all to help people. Other examples are easy to find. What could threaten the U.S. as an innovator would be too much greed and a lack of passion. Look in your heart to see where you can help people. The money will follow. And as history has proven, maybe somebody else will enjoy the fruits of your work -- which is easier to accept if you're not in it for the money.
Your 75th Anniversary Issue is inspiring. The Internet is a great leveler, and what the recording and music industries are witnessing is just the tip of the iceberg. EBay, Amazon, and JetBlue have created effective business models on the Net. But for physical commodities, the next challenge to electronic commerce is instant gratification. In the next few years, Amazon, eBay, and similar players will have to come out with improved fulfillment: I could place my order from my Treo, walk down to Starbucks for my latte, and by the time I got home, the books I ordered would be waiting at my doorstep.
New Delhi While America's post-September 11 visa-screening procedures are complicated and lengthy, they need not be as slow and cumbersome as those now in place ("Tech's future," Cover Story, Sept. 27). The State Dept. could request the assistance of a body such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify highly qualified professors and researchers in a myriad of disciplines who would be willing to evaluate foreign applicants' credentials, with a quick turnaround time, of course. The fee ($200) could be passed on to the applicant.
Florida International University
"Tech's future" referred to "one computer course" that Eduardo Severino de Santana and Cintia Arantes of Brazil took. The course is Programa Para o Futuro, a comprehensive IT employability-training program for poor young people in Recife, Brazil, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and designed and implemented by the Academy for Educational Development, in partnership with four Brazilian NGOs. The training required the youths to engage in activities that simulated the workplace. Strong private-sector partnerships were integral to the program's success. All 50 of the young people who started the program graduated, and 37 have found quality jobs with solid career opportunities. Nearly 80% are enrolled in higher education. The youth who joined Programa Para o Futuro in May, 2003, could not have dreamed that their lives would have been transformed so radically and permanently by "one computer course."
Director, Programa Para o Futuro
Academy for Educational Development
Washington As a Swiss, I am appalled by the assertion from the reader in Gerlafingen, Switzerland, "Why women's incomes need to be lower than men's" (Readers Report, Oct. 11, regarding "Sex-bias suits: The fight gets ugly," European Business, Sept. 6-13). It's a conservative and outdated argument justifying the fact that women are underpaid. This is a very typical backward attitude that is quite current and accepted in some regions of Switzerland and abhorred in others, particularly in the big cities such as Geneva and Z?rich.
The fact that women live longer does not justify them being underpaid. It is unacceptable that salary policies validate any gender bias. And the notion is quite contradictory in Switzerland, a country with so many innovative companies that are at the forefront in many industries.
I write after reading a reader's comment that because women live longer than men, they may be paid less. I am perplexed: Should then people with healthier habits, such as nonsmokers, be paid less also? (I happen to be a male nonsmoking professor of economics in a women's college.)
Ewha Womans University