The value of comparing the U.S. against four front-running countries with a combined population of 26.6 million (California has almost 37 million people) is probably an open question.
It would not be difficult to poke a stick at the World Economic Forum's tech rankings. But there's a growing body of evidence that says the U.S. is in decline or in danger of it. These reports and cogent opinions analyze R&D spending, education, the business climate and many other things, and they are increasingly influencing the debate in Washington.
Here's a look at some of it.
1. Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Rapidly Approaching Category 5 . This paper, originally published in 2005 and updated last year, was prepared for the presidents of the National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.
In the five years since the original report, its authors concluded that "the nation's outlook has worsened." It cited problems in education, particularly in math and science, and federal spending. It's filled with observations, such as: "Of Wal-Mart's 6,000 suppliers, 5,000 are in China," and "Only four of the top ten companies receiving United States patents last year (2009) were United States companies."
2. Unlike many in government positions, the DOE secretary doesn't speak from the safety of rigidly prepared text. But a richly illustrated presentation he prepared for a talk last fall at the National Press Club outlined his concerns about America's tech decline, particularly in manufacturing. It makes numerous comparisons to China, including a quote from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2009: "We will make China a country of innovation."
3. The Atlantic Century: Benchmarking EU and U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness . This report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation found that of the 40 countries that were compared to the U.S, all of them made faster progress toward a knowledge-based economy than the U.S. The report ranked China first.
"It is a quite serious problem," said Robert Atkinson, of the ITIF, in an interview, "because if we can't compete on the innovation side and the technology side anymore then what do we have left?"
4. in a provocative essay in Businessweek last year, Andy Grove: How America Can Create Jobs , the former chairman and CEO of Intel challenged the idea that the U.S. could thrive as its ships jobs overseas.