Sunday, April 12, 2009

Intel's Founder on America's Future

Fantastic article from the NYT:

“We are watching the decline and fall of the United States as an economic power — not hypothetically, but as we speak,” said Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of Intel.

I've sued Intel before, so I don't agree with everything it says or does, but Mr. Barrett knows of what he speaks. The fact that politicians are not heeding intelligent entrepreneurs like Mr. Barrett means our political system is broken. Politicians seem to be incapable of educating their constituents about the benefits of immigration. Part of the problem is that media outlets, which used to have substantive political discussions, such as FDR's fireside chats, have moved away from being an educational tool. In addition, the media's shock-value brand of journalism has diluted America's capacity for intelligent analysis.

When the Internet came on the scene, it seems that traditional media outlets ditched intelligent commentary and analysis in favor of "Do whatever it takes to look at me" journalism. Prior to the Internet, for example, reality television--where a loudmouth or superficial person was vaulted to celebrity status--was a small portion of mainstream media. (MTV's "The Real World" was really the only major reality show for years.) In contrast, today's media items are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator (e.g., Octo-mom) to attract readers. In an age of video games, the Internet, text messaging, and numerous other entertainment options, mainstream media resorted to bottom-feeding to get eyeballs. As a result of so much information--most of it devoid of any real analysis--the public gets little news that has any real substance. If you assume that mainstream media is an important pillar in keeping a country on the right path, the media's declining standards should frighten you.

Speaking of pillars, the New York Times has been a beacon of light throughout America's history. It was responsible for the seminal case of NYT vs. Sullivan, which affirmed a newspaper's right to publish controversial new reports without fear of litigation. Here is one of my favorite parts of the opinion:

Those who won our independence believed . . . that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law - the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed."

Thus we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

Now ask yourself: are Octo-mom, Madonna's adoption efforts, and Lindsey Lohan's romantic exploits what America's founders contemplated when they talked about our duty to have "robust" political discussions? To wit: the top stories on Yahoo's main portal right now are about a ship captain's rescue; Obama's dog; Lohan's hair; and cable TV bills. Go back and re-read Mr. Barrett's comment above.

Oh, the decline of an empire.

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