Thursday, June 26, 2008 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Modernity's miracles require geniuses from abroad

Last week PFF co-hosted an event highlighting the crucial importance of immigration to the U.S. economy. At the half-day event with our partners at the National Chamber Foundation, I first interviewed Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal and author of the new book Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders. Then five immigration experts discussed the policy and politics of high-end tech and science immigration. You can view the webcast here.

Maybe columnist George Will was watching. Writing from Palo Alto today, Will makes the pro-immigration case with characteristic eloquence:

Modernity means the multiplication of dependencies on things utterly mysterious to those who are dependent -- things such as semiconductors, which control the functioning of almost everything from cellphones to computers to cars . . . . Yet their nation's policy is the compulsory expulsion or exclusion of talents crucial to the creativity of the semiconductor industry that powers the thriving portion of our bifurcated economy. While much of the economy sputters, exports are surging, and the semiconductor industry is America's second-largest exporter, close behind the auto industry in total exports and the civilian aircraft industry in net exports.

The semiconductor industry's problem is entangled with a subject about which the loquacious presidential candidates are reluctant to talk -- immigration, specifically that of highly educated people. Concerning whom, U.S. policy should be: A nation cannot have too many such people, so send us your PhDs yearning to be free.

Instead, U.S. policy is: As soon as U.S. institutions of higher education have awarded you a PhD, equipping you to add vast value to the economy, get out. Go home. Or to Europe, which is responding to America's folly with "blue cards" to expedite acceptance of the immigrants America is spurning.

It's astonishing we are still debating this topic. More than a decade ago George Gilder was exposing the same self destructive behavior George Will fights today:

The underplaying of immigration as an economic force stems from a basic flaw in macroeconomic analysis. Economists fail to account for the indispensable qualitative effects of genius. Almost by definition, genius is the ability to generate unique products and concepts and bring them to fruition. Geniuses are literally thousands of times more productive than the rest of us. We all depend on them for our livelihoods and opportunities. . . .

Consider Intel Corp. Together with its parent, Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel developed the basic processes of microchip manufacture and created dynamic and static random access memory, the micro-processor, and the electrically programmable read-only memory. In other words, Intel laid the foundations for the personal computer revolution and scores of other chip-based industries that employ the vast bulk of U.S. engineers today.

Two American-born geniuses, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, were key founders of Fairchild and Intel. But their achievements would have been impossible without the help of Jean Hourni, inventor of planar processing; Dov Frohmann-Benchkowski, inventor of electrically erasable programmable ROMs; Federico Faggin, inventor of silicon gate technology and builder of the first microprocessor; Mayatoshi Shima, layout designer of key 8086 family devices; and of course Andrew Grove, the company's now revered CEO who solved several intractable problems of the metal oxide silicon technology at the heart of Intel's growth. All these Intel engineers -- and hundreds of other key contributors -- were immigrants.

The next Intels, the next Googles -- indeed, the next American century -- requires our openness to and recruitment of these "geniuses from abroad."

posted by Bret Swanson @ 7:43 PM |