Clinton, Bush Sr. Laud Tech Effect
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton told members of the wireless industry gathered here at the CTIA Wireless show today that their industry has had a dramatic and positive impact on history, but that more can be done.
The presidents addressed what Bush called "the importance of telecommunications and technology in the course of history." Bush, for instance, referred to his being able to conduct the United States' response to the invasion of Kuwait from his Maine vacation home.
Clinton talked of the IT industry's impact on the U.S. economy in the 1990s, saying that, while information technology accounted for only 7 percent of those employed in the U.S. between 1996 and 2000, it accounted for 28 percent of the nation's economic growth.
The average economic growth during those years was 4 percent for the United States, but its IT sector grew by 21 percent on average. National inflation was 3 percent, Clinton said, while it remained at just over 1 percent in the IT sector.
"We were lifting the whole economy because of what you were doing. It had an enormous impact on America, giving us the sense that we could grow together," Clinton said.
Bush cited comments made by then-West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to support his hopes for technology's role in the future. In the early 1980s, predicting the decline of the Soviet Union and the unification of Germany, Kohl argued that West German television commercials beamed into the East showed the prosperity and freedom a free and democratic society could produce. Bush said mobile technology was already having the same effect on China.
"We can't knuckle under them on our own beliefs for formulas on human rights, but I can guarantee you, having lived in China, there are more individual liberties, there are more human rights, and there is more experimentation with capitalism than anybody would have dreamed possible," Bush said.
Clinton also spoke of the positive impact mobile technology ought to have on the future by creating a society where "we share ownership and feel like we belong together."
He said there were already examples of the type of ownership in the world economy that mobile technology can bring to developing markets.
In Haiti street children who would have lived lawless lives are now being pulled into "predictable economic systems," selling cell phone minutes. In India, Clinton said, small-time entrepreneurs are making good on micro-loans made through sites such as Kiva.org and are rising above the poverty line by purchasing cell phones and then leasing them out to their neighbors.
Clinton also said that by giving people the ability to engage in commerce and communicate, communications technology can keep the poorest from forging their identities on religions that make them different and what "crazy politicians" will tell them makes them more human than their enemies. He said those in the audience had the responsibility to make sure that commerce and communication happens.
"You don't want historians a hundred years from now to look back and say, they had this wonderful technology where people were able to communicate with people everywhere, but all it did was reinforce the existing divisions of the early 21st century," Clinton said.
"You don't want that to be the story. You want the story to be that the technology that gave you this fascinating life, that gave you a sense of your potential as a human being, you found a way to give to everybody else so that all those people -- who tried to convince human beings to kill their fellow human beings because their narrow identity was more important than their common humanity -- failed because of what you did."
Bush said he is also hopeful about the world.
"Twenty-five years from now, you can all look back and hopefully I can look down and you can say that your industry brought much more freedom and democracy."
The speeches even included their share of humor. Bush said it has been a pleasure traveling and working with Clinton to alleviate the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami, but that he's had to endure Washington reactions to his getting along with Clinton so well.
Bush said that when his son and current President Bush spoke to reporters after Clinton's heart surgery, George W. Bush noted that Clinton was surrounded by his loved ones: "Hilary, Chelsea and my Dad."
When Clinton took the stage, he said, "You have just seen an example of the punishment I have received from God for defeating President Bush. It is now my fate to spend the rest of my natural life as [George Bush's] straight man."