- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 9, 2005

Fortune favors the Brave. Well, it can also favor the lucky — as I learned recently when invited to an event honoring two men who did the heavy lifting to create the Internet.

Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, the gentlemen who developed the protocol that began the Internet, were feted by the Internet Society’s D.C. Chapter. It was a superb evening, capped by a panel discussion featuring these two legends.

In the discussion, Mr. Cerf remarked on an unfinished bit of business — Internet security. Talk about a tall order.

As he mentioned technological security, my thoughts turned to the huge sociological challenge the Internet presents to us here in the United States. Three things struck me:

• First, a recent radio report about a German Internet auction site. It’s a site for jobs where the employer posts a position with salary and the bidders, prospective employees, bid the salary down.

• Next was a news story about a downtown Washington office receptionist. She greets visitors, manages office traffic, orders in lunches and does normal receptionist duties — yet she appears on a screen from Pakistan.

Finally, I started Tom Friedman’s new book “The World is Flat.” It gives riveting insight into the effect of the Internet right now — the flattening effect of making everyone, everywhere compete with everyone else, anywhere. Whatever can be digitized (say, an office receptionist position) can be done elsewhere at lower wages and excellent quality.

It could be frightening to view a flattening world from on high. It is all a matter of perspective. If you look at it from the top of the economic hill, it could cause pessimism. Look at the flattening effect from Bangladesh, and it’s cause for optimism. So given our position in the world’s economy, these three related items illustrate a major challenge for us.

So what should we do? Franklin Roosevelt was right. We must not give in to fear. Instead, we need to look at this as another manageable issue and consider our options. This leveling effect is beyond our control, so we better pay attention and plan.

As politicians dither over expense accounts, they let fester the policy areas critical to managing these changes. What policies are those? How about taxes, education, and energy for a start?

In the tax area, we must face huge and growing deficits — they are a drag on the economy and compromise any chance to be flexible as we wrestle with this change. We have become a bit spoiled — we want a lot but we do not want to pay for much.

We decided to wage a war and yet not inconvenience ourselves to pay for it. Pushing bills out into the future simply must end. Taxes and pensions also need to encourage, not punish, saving. There will be no better time to face this than now.

Education policy needs some air: Let’s confront outdated union rules that stifle experiments and then encourage innovative and energetic teaching. We need science and math teachers to create, then feed, a passion for their subjects. They exist — we just won’t let them teach. Why not encourage recent math and science graduates to teach, even if only part-time, for student loan forgiveness?

In energy, a $1 gasoline tax can help fund research into alternatives to carbon-based fuels, can be our next “big deal,” can engage our children for decades to come and help us retain leadership in ideas — while diminishing greenhouse gas emissions and distancing us from unstable fuel sources that require periodic wars to maintain.

It could be introduced over four years at 10 cents/15 cents/25 cents/ and 50 cents. Just as John Kennedy challenged this nation to go to the moon, thus spawning decades of scientific discoveries, a president today can challenge us to pull energy from the wind, the sun and the tidal surges.

The late Jack Kilby invented the monolithic integrated circuit (the microchip) here in the United States. Silicon Valley and the millions of jobs it spun out resulted. It could have happened elsewhere. Where will the energy creativity reside? We can improve our chances if we want.

A flattening world can be good for us too, but only if we plan for it.



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