01 Mar 2006


Can the United States Avoid a Fractured Future?

by Lewis I. Rice

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As CEO of Biotechonomy, a life-sciences research and venture capital firm, Juan Enriquez (MBA ’86) has examined the impact of life sciences on the global economy. In his new book, The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future (Crown Publishers, 2005), Enriquez looks at the very nature of countries: how they appear and disappear, how they grow and fade. With commentary about culture, politics, and economics around the world — and a mélange of eye-catching graphics and type — the book offers warnings and lessons for a United States whose flag may not continue to have fifty stars.

What causes countries to “untie”?

There’s a whole series of theories to explain why that happens: religious, cultural, and language differences. But often countries live with such differences for centuries or even millennia. Ubiquitous communication is allowing people to rapidly compare how they’re doing with others. When countries promise a lot and deliver little, they end up as brands no one wants to support.

How would you describe the U.S. brand?

As a well-respected, strong, powerful, storied Fortune 500 (if not Fortune 10) brand. But the one thing the United States must keep in mind is that the average time a firm stayed in the Fortune 500 in 1935 was about ninety years, and today it’s about fourteen. Even the greatest and most powerful brands can disappear very quickly if they don’t keep upgrading.

What’s polarizing people in the United States?

The reason I wrote the book, and why this polarization angers me so much, is that so many people take their country for granted. Two things are really worrisome: We’re spending a lot more than we have, and we’re fighting each other in very aggressive ways. We’re bringing religion and some very personal terms into it. A whole series of fissures that have sat quiet in this country for a long time can be revived if there isn’t space for moderation.

What can be done to bring the country together?

Every politician in creation says that education is the most important thing. All right. Make sure that U.S. kids are globally competitive and you don’t have to import the brains to launch businesses. Second, when people start demonizing half of the country as godless heathens or conservative nuts, it’s important to understand that they are the extremes. You have to take care of your country, but you might also break your country apart. It can happen, even in the greatest empires. But it’s a notion so distant from the American environment that just raising the question of “Could this flag be different?” will, I think, start an important debate.

— Lewis I. Rice

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Class of MBA 1986, Section B

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