On many counts, the United States of America is quite similar to other developed and even developing countries with its industries, trading businesses, agriculture, shopping malls, hotels, tourism, transport etc. It is in fact falling behind in some aspects.
Bangkok and Shanghai have swankier malls while Dubai and other places have much better airports not to mention airlines. China has become the global factory place while India is the world’s back office.
However, what stands out the most in the USA is the quality of its Universities and other educational institutes.
The Universities in the USA are not only among the top ranked in the world but have facilities and systems that are far ahead of its competitors both in the developed and developing world.
This is the main reason why the USA is ahead of all the other countries in terms of the knowledge or innovation economy.
Therefore, the main resource of the USA keeping it ahead of the global economic pack is not its oil fields or some mineral deposits but its people.
Many of its most valuable global companies from Apple to Facebook and many in between are a product of the innovations of young minds from these Universities and Institutes.
The spirit of innovation is very alive even now with simple ideas like Uber cabs and Bed and Breakfast apps that are seeing overnight multi-billion dollar global empires.
So while a resource dependant country like Saudi Arabia maybe totally reliant on its oil, the USA is increasingly reliant on the innovation and energy of its youth in an increasingly competitive global environment.
In that sense it is time to pause and give deeper thought to the current course of Bhutan’s economic development.
Bhutan is currently relying too much on expensive hydropower projects to secure its economic future.
Here, a country like Venezuela can serve as a cautionary tale of what can happen to countries that are too dependent on natural resources. Venezuela, which has one of the world’s largest oil deposits, is facing an unprecedented economic crisis with a fall in oil prices. Currently the crisis is so bad that even getting food in the market is a challenge.
Its oil subsidized economy meant that there was no incentive to develop its human resources and the highly subsidized nature of the state ensured that people were literally paid for doing nothing.
Bhutan should definitely build its hydro projects as it is a low hanging fruit.
However, the main focus for the country should be in developing and harnessing our human resources.
In that sense, the high priority placed by the government on the education sector is very important. However, this is only the first step as there needs to be a fundamental shift from attitudes to infrastructure to encourage and allow for the growth of innovation.
The admirable thing about the US model is that it has achieved all of this while maintaining a vibrant and noisy democracy.
Another important aspect of the Universities there is that there is a lot of focus on not only allowing for individual growth and innovation but also developing leadership attributes.
Bhutan’s economic future will not hinge on just hydro projects but more importantly on what goes on in our classrooms, the minds of our young and the enabling environment created around it.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”