The Atlantic Council has launched the Art of Future Warfare project. In my role as the project’s director, I am working toward creating opportunities for artists such as writers, illustrators, directors, videographers as well as creativity are seen as essential components of the planning and preparation for the future of warfare and social conflict. Status quo approaches are a liability and the creativity and risk-taking in the artistic community is something to be celebrated.
Shareholders want higher returns. Always. Apple’s $100 billion plan to pay shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends is a perfect reminder of what’s at stake for the world’s leading corporations. As American companies such as Apple take advantage of extensive loopholes and accounting tricks to cut their tax payments to the U.S. government and pay out investors, it is worth considering the notion of what they get in return for each dollar they pay the government. What is the yield? What if each tax dollar collected by the government is seen not as a burden but as an investment in American competitiveness? Ensuring it is a meaningful investment will help boards of directors and CEOs make the case for repatriating foreign profits. That is up to the White House and Congress as much as any CEO or board.
After the sharp-elbowed politics of the past year’s election, the year started with hope that lawmakers and the White House would be able to finally tackle the profound and structural problems facing the United States.
The list is long. Some interpreted the Obama administration’s victory as a mandate to tackle historic problems like the debt or reforming immigration. Month by month, however, 2013 is proving to be no different than any other year in recent political history. There are a bevy of scandals at hand, constituting an incongruent sweep of subjects covering everything from the rights of reporters to work without government surveillance, embassy security in hot zones like Libya, abhorrent sexual abuse within the armed forces and the abuse of federal investigatory powers into political groups.
All the while, America’s competitiveness keeps taking blow after blow. Congress and the White House run headlong willingly into political skirmishes over these issues while ignoring the big, strategic challenges that will shape America’s security and prosperity well into the 21st Century.
Across the river, the Humvees are gone. The helicopters fewer. Sirens a rarity. The guns are back in the armory and the kids are once again at play in the street. Boston is getting back on track after last week’s bombing and the ensuing manhunt that terminated in a Watertown backyard. This weekend, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz helped bookend a tragic episode with his emphatic declaration of allegiance to the city and its people. Indeed, Boston is returning to “normal” even if we will never be the same.
There is no better sign of the importance of image and narrative in the 21st Century global economics and politics than can be found in the quarterly financial statements of the advertising industry.
Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising and media giant WPP, said this week at an American Security Project event that the fastest growing segment in the company’s array of businesses around the world is government spending.
Narrative or image, however, is nothing without credible offerings, either to the global marketplace or to voters. “The best branding is good policy,” Sir Martin said. “National branding has a hard time overcoming bad policies.”
One of the best benefits of learning a new language is you begin to understand your own a lot better.
With that in mind, it is worth looking at China for an important window into how a country that some expect will become the world’s largest economy in a few years is wrestling with a political system and a leadership class struggling to stay connected to the nation’s wider population.
For example, lavish personal spending by officials, fueled by a cocktail of bribes and the state’s coffers, is no longer being tolerated. The New York Times found that everything from an official’s choice of wristwatch to the menus at bureaucrat haunts are being toned down at the behest of President Xi Jinping. Austerity has its own flavor in China.
The wielding of power in a functional political system during times of political and economic transition is critical to a nation’s competitiveness. Corruption, self-dealing and factionalism are liabilities that undermine any country seeking a leading role on the global stage. That is true in the private sector just as it is in government. When both realms are riddled with such flaws a country’s leaders are effectively selling their future to buy advantages today. Just as America wants to improve its own competitive position, other nations such as China are doing the same.
In the public policy realm, many issues are out of reach for a lot of Americans because they can seem abstract by either their scale, such as $16 trillion in national debt, or baffling in their complexity.
Infrastructure, however, is an easy one to understand. After all, local politicians usually love to take credit for fixing potholes. But it is another story inside the Beltway.
That the American Society of Civil Engineers should give the U.S. a “D+” grade in its 2013 survey will come as no surprise to those who regularly travel ravaged roadways, suffer through recurring flight delays or find themselves without power during mild spring storms.
As Washington girds for automatic spending cuts, it is already clear the U.S. is going to pay a price for the political fumbling that led to sequestration. “It just perpetuates the idea that we just can’t seem to get our act together,” said Adm. William Fallon (Ret.), former Central Command and Pacific Command commander and an American Security Project board member, in an interview. Not only does sequestration impact America’s ability to compete globally, it also undercuts the country’s standing with our allies.
Such are the stakes right now that Congress needs to put politics aside so that policy dialogue can take precedence, Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said in an interview. “If we don’t do that there’s really nothing that will work for us over the long term,” she said. “We’re going to have short-term solutions … that’s going to hurt us and our competitiveness internationally.”
Gov. Whitman, an American Security Project board member and president of the Whitman Strategy Group, said the U.S. is presenting a puzzling picture to the rest of the world. “They’ve never seen America where it doesn’t have its act together fiscally,” she said.
Meteorologists face long odds in accurately predicting the weather, particularly in the Washington area where a botched snow forecast can mean drivers stranded on Chain Bridge Road for 6 hours or thousands of federal workers hunkered down at home against “snowquester” with only a dusting on the lawn.
One thing meteorologists are familiar with is uncertainty. Today, so are those inside the Beltway as they come to grips with the true impact of billions of dollars in across-the-board spending cuts that begin to take effect this week.
Within the defense industry, contractors are on guard. Pentagon planners are too, careful of eroding the defense industrial base.
The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer wrote to industry executives this week that spending on research and development and testing and evaluation will need to be cut by $18 billion this year. This kind of funding, referred to as the investment account, is a mainstay of the defense industry’s business model.
“Given the uncertainty we face, the Department will take action in the near term to mitigate budget execution risk to the extent possible; however, damage to the Department and to industry is unfortunately unavoidable at this point,” wrote Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Technology and Logistics in the March 4 letter.
This is just the beginning of a cycle in the industry where companies and Pentagon planners are going to have to learn to live with uncertainty.
A new Harvard Business School survey found that more than half of surveyed alumni expect U.S. competitiveness to decline during the next three years. The report, “Competitiveness At A Crossroads,” by professors Michael E. Porter, Jan W. Rivkin and Rosabeth Moss Kanter, underscores the pessimism about U.S. competitiveness at a time when leaders in Washington are doing very little, if anything, to meaningfully improve it. Improving competitiveness matters because, as the authors write, doing so “will allow firms in the U.S. to win in the global marketplace while lifting the living standards of the average American.” Many of the budget-cutting measures expected under sequestration will make achieving these goals more difficult.