Saturday, August 20, 2005

If The World Is Flat, Don't Build Fences

If The World Is Flat, Don't Build Fences

You should take the time to read this important editorial from the San Jose Mercury News.

William Archey, the CEO of the American Electronics Association, points out that in its (understandable) haste to control the comings and goings of foreigners, the U.S. Government is starting to choke off one of the most important imports this country needs: Brains.

Here are the grim statistics:

"One of every five U.S. scientists and engineers is foreign-born. Over half of all doctoral engineering and math degrees awarded in the United States go to foreign nationals whose financial support helps make these programs economically viable. Yet for two consecutive years, foreign applications to American graduate engineering programs have declined, by 36 percent in 2004 and an additional 7 percent in 2005, according to the Council of Graduate Schools."

This country has always depended in its ability to attract the best and the brightest. While some decry the winner-take-all nature of our capitalist society, it tends to attract winners to America, people who aggressively take advantage of the freedom to create wealth, both for themselves, and for this country.

As long as all we had to do was compete with Europe and Japan, with their more rigid societies and suspicion of the ultra-successful, we could be pretty much guaranteed of cherry-picking the world's biggest brains.

Now, however, in a flat world where huge fortunes are being made in China, India, and Eastern Europe, there is far less incentive for people to make their way to America. In fact, one could argue that there is greater opportunity in those emerging markets.

I'm a firm believer in the American model, and in American cultural and innovation hegemony. But to fuel that model, we need to welcome highly skilled immigrants, not put barriers in their way. This does not mean that we have to completely open our borders; all we have to do is stop thinking of immigration as a monolithic issue and start dealing with skilled and unskilled immigration and travel differently.

To top it all off, it's unclear that rigidity and repression are effective counters to terrorism. My favorite magazine, The Economist, provides a great bit of historical perspective by comparing today's troubles with terrorism with the wave of anarchism that swept through the West at the end of the 19th century.

While today's terrorists have certainly had a huge impact, one should remember that the anarchists of the gilded age managed to assassinate six world leaders, including a popular American president:

"In deadly sequence, anarchists claimed the lives of President Sadi Carnot of France (1894), Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, the prime minister of Spain (1897), Empress Elizabeth of Austria (1898), King Umberto of Italy (1900), President William McKinley of the United States (1901) and José Canalejas y Méndez, another Spanish prime minister (1912)."

To deal with the fear, governments resorted to repression and harsh tactics, including torture, military courts, and restricting freedom of speech (sound familiar)?

For example, take France:

"France, too, resorted to unusual measures. After the bombing of the French Chamber of Deputies, 2,000 warrants were issued, anarchist clubs and cafés were raided, papers were closed down and August Vaillant, the bomber, was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death in a day. An apologist who declared that not a single man in France would grieve for the president if he confirmed the sentence (as he did), and then was assassinated (as he was), was jailed for two years for incitement to murder. The French parliament made it a crime not just to incite sedition but also to justify it. Criminal “associations of malefactors” were defined by intent rather than by action, and all acts of anarchist propaganda were banned."

In the end, all of the repression failed to kill the movement. As The Economist points out, there will always be evil men and women who use fanatical devotion to a cause to justify committing atrocities.

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