Journal: News & Comment

Monday, February 16, 2004
# 4:25:00 PM:

New destinations

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Richard Florida, originator of the idea of the creative class, identifies what he sees as a deepening problem in the United States—a loss of creative resources (link via Backup Brain), because of foreign, trade, and immigration policies that are actively hostile to them:

...the bigger problem isn't that Americans are going elsewhere. It's that for the first time in modern memory, top scientists and intellectuals from elsewhere are choosing not to come here. We are so used to thinking that the world's leading creative minds, like the world's best basketball and baseball players, always want to come to the States, while our people go overseas only if they are second-rate or washed up, that it's hard to imagine it could ever be otherwise. [...]

"We can't hold scientific meetings here [in the United States] anymore because foreign scientists can't get visas," a top oceanographer at the University of California at San Diego recently told me. The same is true of graduate students, the people who do the legwork of scientific research and are the source of many powerful ideas. [...]

Vancouver and Toronto are set to take off: Both city-regions have a higher concentration of immigrants than New York, Miami, or Los Angeles. So too are Sydney and Melbourne. As creative centers, they would rank alongside Washington, D.C. and New York City. Many of these places also offer such further inducements as spectacular waterfronts, beautiful countryside, and great outdoor life. They're safe. They're rarely at war. These cities are becoming the global equivalents of Boston or San Francisco, transforming themselves from small, obscure places to creative hotbeds that draw talent from all over [...]

Intel, Sun Microsystems, Google: All were founded or co-founded by immigrants from places like Russia, India, and Hungary. Nearly a third of all businesses founded in Silicon Valley during the 1990s were started by Chinese- or Indian-born entrepreneurs [...]

Patrons of 7-Elevens in Moberly, Mo., could pick up a Motorola cell phone designed by Chinese-born engineers in suburban Chicago for $30, or order any number of ever-lower-priced goods from Seattle-based (founded by the son of a Cuban immigrant) using ever-cheaper computers purchased at CompUSA, headquartered in Dallas. [...]

Why would talented foreigners avoid us? In part, because other countries are simply doing a better, more aggressive job of recruiting them. The technology bust also plays a role. There are fewer jobs for computer engineers, and even top foreign scientists who might still have their pick of great cutting-edge research positions are less likely than they were a few years ago to make millions through tech-industry partnerships.

But having talked to hundreds of talented professionals in a half dozen countries over the past year, I'm convinced that the biggest reason has to do with the changed political and policy landscape in Washington.

These changes stand to benefit places like Canada, where I live, but that does not mean we should relish them. When America, which has for so long driven so much creativity in the world, begins (perhaps) to stagnate, it's not always possible for the rest of the world to take up the slack, and we're all likely to be poorer for it.


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