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The Western Ramp of Culture

Much like the financial cliff, the western ramp of culture isn’t so much of a jolt but more of a glide. Unlike the financial cliff, this ramp may come sooner and more rapidly than we expect. Also unlike a cliff, a ramp points upwards(!); upwards because this change, I feel, is for the best. World culture will change such that societies worldwide will be  increasingly shaped by the histories of cultures worldwide.

Integral to such change will be a new geography of research and development (R&D). Revenues from much technology, the iPhone for example [1], are earned primarily by Apple, while component vendors and Chinese manufacturers receive 10% and 2% of of the wholesale price. Until now, innovation (and consequently revenues) and “The West” have been synonymous. However, the world will not have long to wait for China, and indeed many other countries, to innovate on a grand scale, more grand than this world has seen. Western innovation will not be replaced, but it shall no longer be the sole potter moulding world innovation.

Though US gross R&D expenditures remain at twice that of China and 33% above Europeans, the Chinese are already leaders on many fronts. Since 2007, China has graduated more PhDs than the United States [2]. Since 2004, multinationals have expanded their R&D workforce in foreign countries by 14% annually albeit spending only 3% more on research abroad in 2008 compared than in 1999 [2,3].

Martin Jacques highlights in his TED talk on the rise of China [4] that soon we may not recognise so well the world around us. I take this proposition in a loose way, not in the way that hurling [5] in Ireland or baseball [6] in the US will be replaced, but rather that our philosophy, our science and our engineering will no longer be solely moulded by what we may feel is our own history.

To me, this talk by Martin Jacques was enlightening. It exposes my inability to judge the accuracy of the propositions made. My global awareness is limited.  Furthermore, it poses the question of how we can, as leaders, entrepreneurs,  students, teachers and engineers embrace this change. There will be prizes, of that I am certain, for those who embrace this ramp first.


  1. Denis Fred Simon, 2013. China’s Innovation Gap. Mechanical Engineering, No. 01/135. January.
  2. Alan S. Brown, 2013. By the numbers: Globalization of the R&D workforce. Mechanical Engineering, No. 01/135. January.
  3. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2012. Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. Survey of U.S. Direct Investment Abroad.
  4. Martin Jacques, 2010. Understanding the rise of China.

Western Ramp of Culture

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