Every once in a while, it's fun to think big thoughts, to read what big thinkers are thinking. The French have the highest reputation for this sort of musing, and so we picked up a brief volume, Millennium -- Winners and Losers in the coming World Order by Jacques Attali, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to find out what he sees ahead.
In his essay, Mr. Attali races around the globe at a swift pace, covering everything in 130 pages, and he offers Americans little hope. "Industry is the only lasting foundation of a country's power, and it is in this sense that the signs of America's relative decline are seen everywhere," Mr. Attali writes. "This is regrettable," he says, "but facts are facts."
The Japanese and Europe come off better, and they likely will be the two main centers of industrial production, culture, and power in the indeterminate future after the arrival of the new millenium, he predicts. Like other futurists, Mr. Attali sees the microchip and its ability to store encyclopedias of information as the foundation supporting his winners and excluding his losers. The United States, he believes, may avoid ignominy if it changes its live-for-the-moment ways, but it more likely will wind up as "a kind of hinterland for Tokyo."
What has Mr. Attali to do with the bond market? Government budget deficits, which is to say Treasury securities, are at the heart of our predicament, for "American savings are declining more and more, making it more difficult to finance investment in the future," he warns. Of some interest is the blame he gives increased spending on education and health for much of the deficits -- interesting because so many Americans at the moment also are critical of their health and education systems.
"American savings are declining more and more, making it difficult to finance investment in the future," he says, claiming that private financial sources are to react properly and so channel investment funds unwisely. He is critical of America's tendency to reduce taxes and slight its investment in infrastructure.
We ought to save more and invest more, he tells us, but he is not optimistic that we will. The United States can save itself if it invests in industry and infrastructure, saves more, develops new products, and shows a "conquering commercial will." America, he asserts, is not doing enough to produce the goods it will need, nor to export what is required to finance and reduce its debt. He blames our "cult of immediate gratification."
Well, enough preaching from a French socialist for one day, but best we pay some attention.