Overheard in the Charlton House pub in Ludow, England, "China is the richest country in the world." One of the gentleman turned to me as I sat nearby, and I said, "No, not yet, America is still on top."
Once England was the wealthiest countries on earth. At other times other countries have laid claim to that title.
For most of the twentieth century and for the present, the United States holds that title. Whether we continue to hold that position depends on the health of our economy; the ability of our education system to create new engineers, managers, and information technologists; and, finally, a government that recognizes the challenges of the future.
The measures of wealth have changed in the last hundred years. Wealth today is less a function of agriculture, natural resources, and manufacture, and more a function of the gathering of information and the ability to manage it. Service industries that involve the computer and information technology, but also including insurance, banking, and business management are increasingly the dominant industries of today. These industries produce nothing that can be eaten or worn, they do not power any vehicles or plants, yet they produce wealth. Take Google for example. Yet, it is a company valued at 220 billion dollars and growing because of its ability to gather information and put it in a usable format.
The internet, like the printing press, is revolutionizing the world; the ability to dominate this service industry will determine economic success or failure in the twenty-first century. One only has to observe the international concern with both Microsoft and Google to see this.