A Swarm of Officers
I recently posted at Symposium an interesting conversation with Cato Institute immigration expert Alex Nowrasteh in which we talked about the various myths about immigration and about how ethno-nationalism is a foreign import. Ironic, isn’t it? But at the end, we mostly talked about the difference between a scarcity mindset and a growth mindset, and about all the growth we’re blocking out by not taking in immigrants.
Make Immigration Great Again
About the same time, I came across a great article calling for a “One Million Talents” program, in which the US would go out and actively recruit the world’s most talented people.
What is the single most significant step the United States can take to sustain the technological predominance it has enjoyed since World War II? The answer should be obvious: to actively recruit the most talented minds in the world and welcome them into a society where they have the opportunity to realize their dreams. From physicist Albert Einstein and the other European scientists who helped the United States win World War II and land on the moon to the founders of Intel, Google, eBay, Uber, and the many technology companies that have powered economic growth, smart and ambitious immigrants have been the country’s secret sauce.
To sustain the United States’ technology leadership in the face of China’s formidable economic and military challenge, U.S. President Joe Biden should launch an urgent drive to recruit and retain 1 million tech superstars from around the world by the end of his first term in office.
It’s not just a matter of enticing new immigrants but of retaining bright minds already in the country. In 2009, a Turkish graduate of the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Erdal Arikan, published a paper that solved a fundamental problem in information theory, allowing for much faster and more accurate data transfers. Unable to get an academic appointment or funding to work on this seemingly esoteric problem in the United States, he returned to his home country. As a foreign citizen, he would have had to find a U.S. employer interested in his project to be able to stay.
Back in Turkey, Arikan turned to China. It turned out that Arikan’s insight was the breakthrough needed to leap from 4G telecommunications networks to much faster 5G mobile internet services. Four years later, China’s national telecommunications champion, Huawei, was using Arikan’s discovery to invent some of the first 5G technologies. Today, Huawei holds over two-thirds of the patents related to Arikan’s solution—10 times more than its nearest competitor. And while Huawei has produced one-third of the 5G infrastructure now operating around the world, the United States does not have a single major company competing in this race. Had the United States been able to retain Arikan—simply by allowing him to stay in the country instead of making his visa contingent on immediately finding a sponsor for his work—this history might well have been different.
This article is accompanied by a photo I hadn’t seen before, of Albert Einstein taking the oath of American citizenship in 1940—an auspicious year.