The future doesn't happen in America any more. I can confirm it. I'm sitting on a sidewalk browsing the internet via a free municipal wireless network. There was also an extensive free network in Istanbul. Denmark, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and several other countries exceed America in wireless and internet availability on a per bandwidth per person basis. Other than, maybe San Francisco and the Bay Area, are there any places where one can sit and browse the net, communicate, send email and engage in all sorts of innovative pursuits for free? A guy sitting next to me is videoconferencing with a colleague in Malaysia right now. Another woman is doing something on a handheld wireless device. Some kids are playing video games and here I sit doing my thing. The service can be unreliable. And it's certainly not a good idea to download anything from iTunes. Not from a legal standpoint just from a bandwidth point of view.
Of course, it isn't free. Local taxes pay for it. But isn't that what taxes are for? To improve the quality of a nation's human capital? The standard of living here in Singapore is that of America, as I have mentioned elsewhere. But the infrastructure is better. America is falling behind because we're drowning in a solipsistic consumer culture, borrowing against the future to maintain an excessive and opulent standard of living without actually manufacturing anything of value. And believe me, Singaporeans love to shop, consume, the whole gamut. The whole city is a shopping mall. But they also save, much more as a percentage of wages than we do. They pay taxes and don't grumble about it. They have a top shelf military relative to the size of the city-state. Every able bodied young man (and frequently women) do national service of some sort. It isn't perfect, don't get me wrong. But it's better than pouring billions into two pointless wars when money should be spent on our crumbling schools, our collapsing bridges and our disastrous electricity grid.
These used to be American values. They used to be why the world looked up to us. But the people here in Singapore don't understand. They ask me, even now, why American's have gone so crazy, lost the center, changed so drastically. They like us here. I am treated very, very well. Better than in almost any country I've traveled in. But they're losing patience with us. Will electing Obama change our image? Having an African-American president will help, I've heard that a lot. And I don't deny the attractiveness of the idea from a purely geopolitical point of view, a way of regaining some of the high ground and mystique of "America" squandered these last few years. It's a palpable feeling here and in other places. But there is much, much more work to be done than just one election. This isn't an encomium for Obama, no hagiography here. But, there is a real hope outside of America on this issue--and a hope like that is not to be denied, or discounted.