This year, perhaps right about now, the world’s billionth car will take its place on the world’s roads. And while we all hope that the billionth car won’t be in front of ours, especially at rush hour, it does represent a global milestone. Nearly one in five adults alive today can afford a car. No matter how much we complain, the world is becoming wealthier, healthier and more integrated.
The world is becoming middle class.
Given the way the world is growing, the billionth car is likely to be sold in China or India or Brazil, where the economies continue to grow swiftly, even with today’s economic headwinds. That car is also likely to have a nameplate identifying it as a Nano or Proton or Geely or Chery. The Asian car market could grow by as much as 40 percent this year, while the Western market is expected to be flat, at best.
One way a Westerner might think about Asia’s rapidly growing economic might is as competition, and not just for jobs and markets — competition for everything. Asian companies are active in Africa, South America, Australia, the Middle East and the areas around the Caucasus. They are locking down long-term contracts for raw materials and new sources of energy. They are vying for the right to explore for oil in waters just as deep and dangerous as those in the Gulf of Mexico. While we could view this as competition, that’s not the way I see it.
What history seems to show is that the more hands we have on deck, to put it in the vernacular, the more work gets done.
If China and India are educating engineers, scientists and physicians, that means more bright minds will be tackling life’s most difficult challenges. If we add scientists from China, India, Brazil, Russia and elsewhere to the world’s drug discovery teams, our chances of finally curing cancer or malaria or some other dreaded disease can only increase.
Likewise, if we want to tackle the really big issues surrounding climate and the environment, housing and water, or if we want to correct some of the imbalances in the global economy, the more smart people we have working on these problems, the sooner they’ll be solved.
If we want to find solutions to the world’s really big issues, we can’t do it by erecting bigger barriers, or piling restrictions on trade, or limiting where students can go to learn. We can do it only by building bridges between cultures, companies and people.
When the billionth car rolls off the assembly line, and the owner drives it out of the showroom and onto the streets, let’s hope that person, wherever he or she may be, is getting educated as well as getting rich. We can use a few more people working to solve problems, like those that caused the oil spill.