Death by a thousand cuts rather than a fatal death blow
That's what Richard Florida said the US economy is facing as a result of the way the US government responded to 9/11, in an interview [link to RealPlayer file] on Marketplace yesterday. For me, it was a new and impressive argument against the so-called War on Terror. Here's the introductory blurb, "Strangling an economy," from Marketplace's web site:
As of tomorrow, most visitors to the U.S. will have to put their index fingers on a glass plate for an electronic scan. A digital photo will be taken, too. This is an expansion of a surveillance system put in place after 9-11. Abroad, there are complaints about civil liberties. But in the new edition of the Harvard Business Review, Professor Richard Florida of George Mason University makes the argument that the tightening of borders threatens to strangle something unique that's made America's economy remarkably strong.
The strength of the American economy does not rest on its manufacturing prowess, its natural resources, or the size of its market. It turns on one factor—the country's openness to new ideas, which has allowed it to attract the brightest minds from around the world and harness their creative energies. But the United States is on the verge of losing that competitive edge. As the nation tightens its borders to students and scientists and subjects federal research funding to ideological and religious litmus tests, many other countries are stepping in to lure that creative capital away. Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and others are spending more on research and development and shoring up their universities in an effort to attract the world's best—including Americans. If even a few of these nations draw away just a small percentage of the creative workers from the United States, the effect on its economy will be enormous. In this article, the author introduces a quantitative measure of the migration of creative capital called the Global Creative-Class Index. It shows that, far from leading the world, the United States doesn't even rank in the Top 10 in the percentage of its workforce engaged in creative occupations. What's more, the baby boomers will soon retire. And data showing large drops in foreign-student applications to U.S. universities and in the number of visas issued to knowledge workers, along with concomitant increases in immigration in other countries, suggest that the erosion of talent from the United States will only intensify. To defend the U.S. economy, the business community must take the lead in ensuring that global talent can move efficiently across borders, that education and research are funded at radically higher levels, and that we tap into the creative potential of more and more workers. Because wherever creativity goes, economic growth is sure to follow.
As it happens, my brother-in-law, an alien who, along with his family, has lived in the US for most of his life, is traveling to Australia soon with the thought of perhaps moving there permanently. The reason? He's afraid of the US government. I can't say I blame him.