Whither Shall We Lead?

When I was a kid growing up, the cheap metal windup toys were all made in Japan. We considered things from Japan to be cheap and poorly made. Sometime in the 1960’s, though, Japan’s reputation began to change. Nikon was the first Japanese company I heard of that was known for quality. Nikon cameras were the top of the line in the 1970’s and were priced accordingly.

Not long after that, Sony began to be recognized as a solid maker of stereo equipment (that’s what we called audio equipment back then).  In 1977 Sony introduced the “Walkman” (although they eventually settled a patent lawsuit for over $10Mil) and continued to be innovators not only in product design, but in marketing. As the Big Three automakers went from the Mustang, Camaro and Barracuda of the sixties to the Pinto, Vega and Gremlin of the seventies, Toyota, Datsun (now Nissan) and Subaru were beginning to import solid, reliable vehicles that now dominate the world market.

Still, the US has always held the leadership of some market. We still dominate in Information Technology, but we are losing ground there. One area that we should be leading in is slipping away alarmingly quickly and that’s energy efficiency and alternative energy production.

Here in the North Country of New York, we have two major wind farms: Maple Ridge on the Tugg Hill and Noble Wind on the Northeast Adirondacks. We watched the towers, turbines and blades get trucked in from the Port of Montreal where they arrived from Europe. The Spanish wind giant, Iberdrola, is the company that wants to develop wind farms in between these two. Both power companies in Vermont are now owned by a Quebec energy company. New York’s nuclear plants are owned by a company based primarily in Britain.

The irony is that we have the largest consumption of energy of any country and we are one of the largest energy users per capita in the world. Yet we can’t compete in the alternative energy market. We are even losing our conventional energy production and distribution to foreign owners.

If we don’t turn this around, we will be the first generation in the history of the country to leave less to our children than our parents left to us. So kids, start working now, all you stand to inherit is the mortgage.

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