Thomas Friedman: Immigration Is Our Heritage

The Open-Door Bailout

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By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: February 10, 2009

Leave it to a brainy Indian to come up with the cheapest and surest way to stimulate our economy: immigration.

“All you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately improve your savings rate — no Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans.”

While his tongue was slightly in cheek, Gupta and many other Indian business people I spoke to this week were trying to make a point that sometimes non-Americans can make best: “Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.”

While I think President Obama has been doing his best to keep the worst protectionist impulses in Congress out of his stimulus plan, the U.S. Senate unfortunately voted on Feb. 6 to restrict banks and other financial institutions that receive taxpayer bailout money from hiring high-skilled immigrants on temporary work permits known as H-1B visas.

Bad signal. In an age when attracting the first-round intellectual draft choices from around the world is the most important competitive advantage a knowledge economy can have, why would we add barriers against such brainpower — anywhere? That’s called “Old Europe.” That’s spelled: S-T-U-P-I-D.

If there is one thing we know for absolute certain, it’s this: Protectionism did not cause the Great Depression, but it sure helped to make it “Great.” From 1929 to 1934, world trade plunged by more than 60 percent — and we were all worse off.

We live in a technological age where every study shows that the more knowledge you have as a worker and the more knowledge workers you have as an economy, the faster your incomes will rise. Therefore, the centerpiece of our stimulus, the core driving principle, should be to stimulate everything that makes us smarter and attracts more smart people to our shores. That is the best way to create good jobs.

He also cited a recent study by William R. Kerr of Harvard Business School and William F. Lincoln of the University of Michigan that “found that in periods when H-1B visa numbers went down, so did patent applications filed by immigrants [in the U.S.]. And when H-1B visa numbers went up, patent applications followed suit.”

That’s almost the entire article posted above, because it’s brilliant and cannot be stated clearly enough. Yes! Competition requires competitive behavior! Competitive behavior DOES NOT mean printing cash to subsidize the failing parts of the economy. For America, Competition has always meant relying on the spirit of freedom and ambition that is NOT our birthright, but rather is the heritage to which those successful among us return.

It’s all about globalization, kids. Obama has waffled on trade (see Prof. Mankiw on the same), but it remains to be seen whether these anti-visa conditions are the result of the healthy lobbying industry buoyed by many suddenly-out-of-work lawyers, or a deeper Executive conceit.

We'll also take some of your capable, your ambitious, and your creative yearning to build!

We'll also take some of your capable, your ambitious, and your creative yearning to build!

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