While this appears as a blog, if “blogs” are expressions of opinion, this doesn’t qualify. I’m really looking for some discussion – some ideas about what I perceive as a problem that relates to the flow of people from one country to another, like immigration, but very different with seemingly different consequences.
From my North American west coast vantage point, I’ve seen no debate about a subject that may well be a keystone of international progress. The concern, in a nutshell, is that the USA sucks the best and the brightest from their native lands, leaving those lands without these superior human resources needed to stem the tides of poverty and ignorance. American institutions – Universities, Government agencies, technology corporations, pharmaceutical giants, hospitals – recruit, train and employ the brightest and most motivated of people from countries that are absolutely poverty stricken, e.g. India, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Afghanistan and Palestine . Nearly all of these people stay and prosper here. Is this a good thing?
It must first of all be observed that the right to travel internationally is a highly important one. It is one mark of a civilized society. Autocratic regimes are often characterized by restrictions on travel in or out of a nation. These restrictions are a clue to the sort of state paranoia that fuels horrors like genocide.
Fidel Castro, in the early days of his tenure in Cuba, imposed what was labeled a “diploma tax”, requiring people educated in Cuban institutions – particularly medical schools- to pay the state the equivalent of the cost of the education if they wanted to leave the country. The anti-Castros and self-righteous American bourgeois damned such a practice as an immoral restriction on the right to travel. I saw the proposal as perfectly reasonable, given the sacrifice made by the Cuban people to educate these wannabe émigré’s. It wasn’t really a restriction on travel that prevented travel.
The situation that bothers me is not exactly the same. In the most prevalent contemporary practice, the `émigré comes to this country to be educated and stays. There are other practices that recruit in the donor country and train there or elsewhere before immigrating to the US. I think that American universities actually recruit among the foreign elite, probably because such students pay their full freight, i.e. retail tuition and fees. Obviously, American technology companies actively recruit abroad. I think, but have not confirmed, that there are US Government programs that pay tuition for foreign students in American institutions of learning.
Last year, I had another in a long line of surgeries on my nose to remove basil cell cancers. The surgeon was an East Indian woman who had been born in India but raised and educated in this country. The Department of Dermatology at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon is constantly challenged to keep doctors – since moving to Oregon in 2002, I’ve had four, none for more than one visit. The Indian woman is gone – she took a job elsewhere, shortly after my surgery. The current practitioner is a first-generation Persian (Iranian).
The surgeon who performed cardiac by-pass on me in 1999 is Turkish. A vascular surgeon I consulted a few years ago is Pakistani. The proprietor of a large veterinarian hospital and clinic near my home in Portland is Pakistani. A dear friend is effectively in hospice care and all the care givers are immigrants from the Philippines. Technology entrepreneurs being interviewed in the media regarding their new American enterprise are Pakistani. A fellow touted as the next CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, was born and raised in India, educated both in India ( Electronic Engineering degree) and here ( University of Wisconsin – Milwaukie for Master of Computer Science, and the University of Chicago for his MBA).
The president of PepsiCo is Indian as is the chief executive officers of several Fortune 500 companies, not to mention others that hail from Brazil and other Latin American countries. The home countries of these high flying immigrants to the United States, just to illustrate the point, have the following per capita income in current dollars: Pakistan – $1,257; India – $1,489; Turkey – $10,666; Mexico – $9,749. The per capita income of the United States is $51,749; the United Kingdom is $39,093 and, by the way, Afghanistan is $687.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a renowned source of funding for original research, announced the winners in its most recent round of awards. The announcement is a full-page advertisement in the February 18, 2014 New York Times. I took a second look at the list and, judging from just the surnames on the list, it appeared to me that most winners were either foreign born or recent arrivals. I looked more close at the award list for chemistry and Googled the names that appeared to be “foreign”. There were twenty-three in the chemistry category. I found that ten were foreign born and/or partially educated abroad. Nine of those are currently on the faculty of an American University and one with Scripps Research Institute. There may have been more, but I didn’t Google everyone on the list.
By no means does the background described above cover the objective bases necessary to draw a complete picture. These are but examples.
I keep wondering how religious zealots get control of entire populations in some places and why that doesn’t happen in others. Notwithstanding the fundamental nature of religion, people tend to be rational – not smart, but more likely to make decisions that make sense for themselves and their world. It is not rational to be or to use suicide bombers for any purpose, let alone political. It is not rational to use chemical weapons on people in your own country. There are many such irrational acts carried out in various countries in recent years ( including our own, which is another blog) that seem to be happening without voices of rational moderation.
I also wonder about the wretched poverty one sees in, as an example, Bangkok – poverty which I think has existed for generations and apparently will go on for additional generations. Starvation, filth, disease and back-breaking work would seem easy enough to eliminate, providing there is the leadership to show the way. Where is that leadership? Certainly, the competent revolutionary can arise and most likely does arise from any people. Maybe it is tougher in many places because of a passive culture or a particularly nasty despot, but it seems – at least intuitively – that such leadership exists. My suspicion is that the leadership has left and gone to America – with the encouragement and support of the Americans.
The Egyptian “revolution” also suggests that something has been removed from that society – descendants of one of humanities oldest civilizations. Egyptians suffered a bloody struggle in pursuit of a democratic government. An election was held and the Muslim Brotherhood was elected and apparently many did not like that result. So, they staged another mass revolt and persuaded the military – the entity which previously secured the peoples’ oppression – to dump the Muslim Brotherhood. For what? The revolutionaries can’t decide among themselves. An army general is about to declare himself the president. Where are the people who would understand that democracy does not mean you always get your way? Where are those who have studied western democracies and learned that peace and stability is worth the price of sacrificing a government that looks and thinks exactly like you?
As I am writing this, I painfully realize how much many in our own Republic don’t understand democracy and, even if they do, don’t really like it ( Hedgefunder and currently leading megalomaniac Tom Perkins being a leading example). But these ‘know-nothings’ and champions of the rich do not prevail and won’t prevail until the American society is a forgotten myth. That, however, is not the present question before us.
Struggle as we do with our image and its contrast to our realities, as a nation we are repeatedly faced with a cockeyed foreign policy that has resulted in a very long line of foreign aid justifications. Much of that over the years has been motivated by the permutations of the American oil companies and their western allies and the need to secure the vast resources of the Arabian Peninsula, Valenzuela, the North Sea or Nigeria. The political result of oil companies mucking about these places to extract and keep the wealth has been destabilization ( Saudi Arabia being a stark exception). That destabilizing justifies more foreign aid and remains a constant because indigenous leaders and intellects are driving BMWs and building monster houses in Sam Mateo and Marin Counties, California. I don’t know that is true; I suspect it is.
Would American difficulties with Pakistan’s seemingly endless political chaos be more likely resolved if its intellectual elite had not emigrated to Stanford, MIT, UC or Harvard? It may be easier to answer that question if asked about Nigeria or Belarus or Indonesia.
Are indigenous American young people less capable, intellectually, than these foreign young people? Are Indian students simply better at the professional and scholarly undertakings than indigenous Americans? Is the immigrant intellectual more willing to work for less? For any position taken by an immigrant scholar, is an indigenous American being shut out of a career?
Does the influx of foreign scholars, intellectuals and business leaders into academic and fortune-five hundred institutions effectively erode the American ethos that created the institutions? If it does, is that bad?
When thinking about immigration, as I have been for many years, the impact of American immigration policy on the immigration of the scientist, graduate student, master of business often goes unstudied. It is more often about the vast bulk of worker immigration and most often about Latin Americans and cheap labor and different languages. What we decide should be the policy of this country about immigration will ultimately determine the path of our future. Should we be fashioning a method of keeping the intellectual as a citizen that is different and less demanding than keeping the truck driver, auto mechanic or the melon picker?? If we do, what does that do to such American notions as equal justice under law?
Subject to better ideas that I know exist out there, my preliminary thinking is that the immigration of a leader, an intellect or a scholar should be subject to considerations of the needs of the country in which he is born or raised.