THE ECONOMICS OF BRAINS
A lively discussion followed my last, brief post in the comment section between Dan
on one side, more or less, and Col
on the other. Collounsbury understood my point quite well but since the subject is quite important it is incumbent on me to answer the objections and questions raised by the former gents.
( We will leave aside 4GW/5GW theory and counterintelligence for another day, restricting my observation here to the fact that James Jesus Angleton never recovered from Kim Philby's betrayal and U.S. counterintelligence has yet to recover from Angleton).
As Col explained, visas for these foreign PhDs and prospective ones is indeed a question of economic efficiency. Longitudinally speaking, a vital one and it should not be confused with general immigration policy. The United States does not produce enough hard science and mathematics PhD's of its own to run our economy, R&D labs ( including defense tech) and universities. That is simply a fact
. Nor one that is likely to change because our demand for such people, along with the global demand, will only rise in the future. Already, half of all the people who have ever
graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology ( India's MIT/Caltech) reside in the U.S. but fewer of them are coming here and this represents a strategic problem
but one that we can easily fix by changing ill-conceived policies.
I have no problem with the suggestion Curtis made to invest in training our own talent. I'm all for it, 100 %, let's spend a fortune doing so, call me sold. It just won't solve the problem as absolute demand for talent is escalating as countries like India, China, Singapore, Japan and the EU are starting to ramp up their universities, think tanks and government labs. We need more of our people graduating with PhD's plus the immigrants as well.
Secondly, for cutting edge research in certain applied sciences and definitely theoretical pure science and math fields the concept of marginality
is strongly in play. At this level of cognitive ability there are no substitute goods
for this type of brilliance. You either have them, or you don't. Period. Bioinformatics, superstring theory, nanotech engineering, genomic engineering, complexity theory and like fields require approximately genius level intelligence and many years of training to achieve mere competency. To push the parameters and yield breakthrough insights is at yet a still higher and rarer level of mental ability. America's compatrative advantage is that most of these people want ( in some specialized subfields, must) to come to America at least some point in their career. Quite a few remain, perhaps most, permanently.These are the people our current visa policies are encouraging to go elsewhere
. What the frick does a mandarin speaking mathematician from Shanghai or a Brahmin genetic engineer from Calcutta have to do with al Qaida ????
Doctors, lawyers, engineers and such are pretty much interchangeable. If graduate schools did not artificially limit numbers we'd be drowning in lawyers and CPAs. Not so for the above immigrants. At a certain level of say, theoretical physics, the number of people on the planet who can extend the frontiers of a su field would fit comfortably in a greyhound bus. They could all stand around Steven Hawking and you'd still be able to see his wheelchair.
Secondly, an indirect benefit of having foreign, superbright, immigrants in the U.S. working on benign research is that they are not at home working on something more dangerous.
Weapons development has followed well-trodden pathways since WWII because governments with limited resources prefer to invest them chasing the already possible, free-riding to the extent that they can on our previous efforts. The Manhattan Project was a gamble for the U.S into the unknown. Kim Jong Il by contrast, was pretty sure that if his scientists did everything right then North Korea was in the nuclear club. Things that we have not yet tried or thought of to invent are not therefore impossible to accomplish.
I'd rather a 185 I.Q. Chinese scientist be at Harvard trying to cure cancer than be at a PLA facility designing bioweapons. The brain drain that helps our economy also curtails on the margin the ability of other states to find new ways to wreck utter ruin.