By no means the least of the technologies the microprocessor has changed profoundly is the technology of war. When World War II ended, a Cold War quickly developed between the two so-called superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Although the United States economy was far richer, more productive, and more technologically capable than the Soviet centralized economy, the Soviet Union was in the early days of the Cold War able to match the United States militarily, albeit at the cost of a much lower standard of living for its population. One way it did that was by extensive industrial and technological espionage.
The microprocessor would soon make that impossible. The speed of the advance of technology increased enormously, and the Soviet Union simply could no longer steal secrets fast enough to stay even. The revolution in communications, meanwhile, made it impossible to keep control over what information was available to the people. The only possibility was for the Soviet Union to reform its deeply corrupt and bureaucratic system. But that proved impossible to control, and the system began to collapse in 1989 with the liberation of eastern Europe. In 1991, the Soviet Union disappeared from the map of the world, leaving the United States alone as the world’s only economic and military superpower.
from Growth: The Only Way Out of this Mess – The American past offers the best guide to a prosperous future by John Steele Gordon in the July/ August, 2011 Commentary Magazine
What a powerful comment: we innovated so fast “the Soviet Union could no longer steal secrets fast enough to stay even.” This is true in business: Apple’s incredible pace of innovation has now made them the largest company (in market cap) in the world. While we remain self critical (another uniquely American strength), and get mired in what we think is a dysfunctional political and a weak education system, our innovation is remarkable. No other country comes close. When we lose that edge we are toast.