Immigration Revisited – The Number One Draft Pick LAW

 Folks, you might wonder why I would write an opinion title as LAW and not as THEORY.  Well, there’s a simple reason. It’s because I’m right, I just know I am – sorry to be so crass by the way but I have to say this. And, what am I right about you ask?

Perhaps you remember my discussion on immigration some months back – I chose the colorful title “Sorry Billy but Punjab is Not Stealing YOUR Job” to highlight my belief that America’s dominance comes from our ability to attract the best people from around the world and have them stay and build their lives here – to the benefit of our society and economy. This, in a nutshell is  what I call the Number One Draft Pick LAW.  And this I know I’m right on.

I was inspired to write about this because today, I was turned on to a great memo written… by Howard Marks, the chairman of the Oaktree Funds:

Memo to Shareholders

Why do I believe this? Consider a few “hypotheticals”:

Think about this – if you were a genius scientist in China 20 years ago, and you had a great idea (perhaps  this idea happened to be controversial too – China loves it like that don’t they), wouldn’t you try like heck to get to the USA where some university would likely sponsor you and your research and then perhaps you could develop a career or business and have personal success? Or, perhaps you were a successful Romanian gymnastics coach and you desperately wanted out of that controlling, oppressive state – you knew you could come to the USA and people would pay you well and respect you as you taught their children how to succeed in gymnastics – and have personal freedom to boot (and maybe even coach a couple of Olympic medalists?)!

Or perhaps you were simply an excellent mason from Italy, and wanted to start your own company, but faced government corruption and a perennially weak economy in Italy. You knew you could come to the USA , and contractors would hire you for top dollar to display the excellent masonry skills that you developed over your life.

This was and still is to a degree the advantage that the USA offers immigrants. However, we seem to have forgotten that. We want to restrict immigration, restrict student and work visas, and tell the world’s most talented people that we no longer want the number one pick in the draft.  We forget that hard-working, creative immigrants significantly boosted our economy. Believe me folks, if you have ever been in the company of the type of ambitious, intelligent people who go after their goals like crazy (spend some time at an MIT function to know what I mean), you know that this is not taught in schools, nor are those attributes commonplace.

What I am saying is that even if we have a great education system, you can’t teach in a classroom the kind of drive that these people have. In other words, sometimes you can’t coach people to do great things, you need to go out and draft a “stud;” and for years, immigration has been our draft – and wow have we gotten some studs – everyone from the German scientists who developed the nuclear bomb before Russia could, to Pierre Omydar, the Iranian Frenchman who founded Ebay. As Howard Marks jokes in the memo linked above:

“When I was a kid in the 1950s, a joke asked why we were ahead of the Russians in technology.  The answer: our German scientists were better than theirs.  This country attracted people from all over the world, gave them unprecedented opportunity, and permitted the most talented to rise to the top.  What a great recipe for success.”

In the future, as other countries become less  difficult to do business in (and in fact quite a few places now throw many freebies to bring in business and are actually quite attractive to do business in) by lowering taxes (Singapore with 0% capital gains tax), offering free office space (yes in London!), and helping to set up logistics (China does this), these “number one draft picks” will no longer come to the US. And if they do get a student visa to come for school, they probably won’t stay as they did in the past.

Too bad – our greatest strength is getting cut at the knees by such rules as tighter immigration especially on those seeking Masters degrees and Ph. D.’s, and having a tax code with an ultra high corporate/capital gains tax rate.  All I know is, if I were a genius from China, I might consider staying home in China or worst case going to Singapore because coming to the USA is no longer the only or best decision that it was in the past.

And I know some of you nativists (being an American nativist is a bit of an oxymoron by the way) will say “good we don’t want those people here.” And if you say that, you will completely reveal your ignorance ,for ten, twenty, thirty years down the line, as Americans develop fewer new ideas/products/businesses you will see our country decline, as Great Britain did.  We will still be good, but we won’t be great. And this is a possibility that makes me sad.

Editor’s Addition (12.19.08):  Podcast  – in this podcast, Professor Amy Chua discusses how hyperpowers in history grew with acceptance of different types of people but typically declined when these societies got into “purifying” or “cleansing” the people. 

Chris Grande

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