ChIndia Won’t “Beat” Us, Because We’re Already Forfeiting

Many people have worried about the threat that China and India post to America by moving towards first-world economic powers. After all, they have, between the two of them, somewhere in the realm of 2.5B people, and if the same proportion of their students become engineers and scientists as we see here, they will be able to assume the dominant economic place in the world by sheer size.

I think the “threat” is overblown. As a fellow engineer, I welcome those people to the workforce. Human progress is driven by technology, and the addition of that many engineers and scientists to the global workforce will improve standards of living worldwide. Heck, I want to go to space before I die, and if we have thousands more engineers trying to make space travel (or just space tourism) a reality, it’s a lot more likely to occur in my lifetime than if only Americans pursue the goal. In addition, perhaps some new technological breakthroughs can extend my lifetime beyond the 75-100 years it’s currently likely to last, improving the quality as it extends as well.

But some people see China and India as a threat. They see the world as a zero sum game, and if China and India become more wealthy, they will do so by making America less wealthy. Those people are wrong, but it doesn’t stop them from being heard.

And they’re heard — which is why I say that while I’m not worried that China and India will “beat” us, I am very worried that we’re forfeiting the match. The only entity that can stop us is us, if we restrict our own freedom to excel in the name of foreign protectionism and a domestic democratic welfare state. Or, to put it more simply, if we follow Europe’s example.

And it appears that we’re doing so:

Some recent work by the Kauffman Foundation underlines how dumb the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress are to use America’s economic woes as an excuse for restricting skilled immigration. Americans have always assumed that skilled immigrants would do anything to get a bite at the American dream. But other countries are producing high-tech clusters that offer bright people plenty of opportunities. They are also putting out welcome mats for the talented rather than building bureaucratic obstacle courses.

Kauffman points out that a growing number of educated Chinese and Indian immigrants are returning home, in response to growing economic opportunities. The repatriation of these workhorses, combined with innumerable decisions by other immigrants to try somewhere more welcoming, could have a devastating impact on the American economy.

Engineers are a pretty multicultural bunch. In fact, my first 5 bosses in 7 years of post-college employment (through my first two jobs) were foreign-born. I’ve worked with native-born Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Egyptians, Persians (aka Iranians), Pakistanis, and quite a few Canucks (among many others, of course). In the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty colorblind society, because it’s very easy to determine who’s technically capable and who’s a seat-warmer, and it rarely has anything to do with country of origin. It’s not always easy to lure a talented worker away from his family, his culture, and country, but if you do, he can become a very valued asset.

In fact, given the social ostracism that most American engineers endured through primary schooling (let’s just say we’re not typically drawn from the most ‘popular’ social groups), American engineers are potentially more likely to seek alternate shores if better opportunities arise. While my personal family situation doesn’t allow for it, I’d definitely consider relocating overseas if the opportunity was right. The last thing we need to do in America is to close our doors to the most talented of the world, and at the same time introduce policies which force our own most talented to consider leaving.

America won’t be “beaten” by other nations. We may — if we remain free — be joined by other nations, but that’s to our mutual benefit If we turn away from our freedom and capitalism and are then surpassed, though, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.