No, the U.S. isn't losing the global talent war
The people at Der Spiegel, the German newsweekly, were nice enough to translate into English a pretty compelling article from last week's issue. Here's how it begins:
They are fed up, truly fed up. Fed up with the constant bickering over the costs of wage benefits, social reforms, elimination of subsidies, store closing hours and all the other symbols of a country stuck in bureaucratic and legislative gridlock.
The "they" of the article are well-educated young Germans--doctors, architects, lawyers, etc.--who have decided that their futures lie elsewhere. The main statistic used in the article to back this up is that in 2005, for the first time in memory, more Germans left the country (144,815) than returned (128,052). I'm assuming the "returnees" include a lot of ethnic Germans emigrating from Eastern Europe, but I'm not entirely sure about that. The article says Germany still has an overall net inflow of 80,000 immigrants a year, but the people leaving are mostly well-educated and the ones coming in aren't.
This is all bad news for Germany, although I imagine the country will somehow muddle through. Given how many millions of smart people Germany has lost over the past two centuries to immigration, war, and genocide, it's amazing that the remaining inhabitants can walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone design and build Mercedes SLR McLarens.
My point in bringing this up, though, is to contrast Germany's situation with that of the U.S., the number two destination (after Switzerland) for emigrating Germans. Although other factors will surely come into play, I think the most important determinant of national or regional economic success over the coming decades will be the presence of talented people. And while there's been lots of worried talk over the past few years about the U.S. losing its edge in the global talent wars, much of it is overwrought.
It's true that the great one-way highway of Indian and Chinese talent moving to the U.S. to escape a dysfunctional economy in India and a repressive state in China has now become a two-way street. That, as David Heenan writes in his book Flight Capital, poses some real challenges for the U.S. But we're still far better positioned than most countries to attract talented people from overseas and keep talented natives at home. Certainly better positioned than Germany.
That's because (a) we speak English, the global language of the well-educated, (b) we have great universities, (c) we're more welcoming of outsiders than most European and Asian countries, (d) we have a dynamic, entrepreneurial economy that keeps spawning new companies and even industries, and (e) we have lots of livable, pleasant cities. If you were stuck in traffic getting to work this morning and you think (e) is a bunch of baloney, try commuting in Bangalore.
UPDATE: One important matter I didn't bring up in my post--whether U.S. immigration policies discourage smart foreigners from coming here--is discussed in the comments below. It's pretty clear that U.S. immigration laws are not designed to strengthen our position in the global talent wars, unlike those of, say, Australia or Canada. That we keeping bringing in talent anyway is testament to something uniquely attractive about the U.S.
As for Jens Straten's comment that my post was "badly researched" and "doesn't make much sense," I'll grant him the first point in that my research consisted entirely of reading an article in Der Spiegel. But I fear he didn't really understand what I was trying to say, which was that the U.S. has some major selling points that the doomsayers among us too often ignore. One is our top universities, which while they will almost sure to be rivaled by those of China and India in the future, currently dominate just about every world ranking I've ever seen. As for the English language, yes lots of universities and corporations in Europe have switched to using it, but they're still located in non-English-speaking-countries. And finally, I'm a big public transportation user myself, and I agree that the excellent transit systems of most big European cities are a selling point. But I think lots of people around the world put even more value on having their very own house with a yard, and American metropolitan areas offer this in unique abundance.
UPDATE 2: Commenter Stuart T. of London correctly points out that most everything I say about U.S. strengths also applies to the U.K. (Which is why London ended up as Europe's financial center instead of Frankfurt.) He also says the Mercedes SLR McLaren was designed in the U.K. I think it's better described as a joint U.K.-German endeavor, but it still was clearly not the best example I could have chosen. How about the BMW M6?
Posted by Justin Fox 1:05 PM 13 Comments | Add a Comment
US sure does have a great universities, dynamic, entrepreneurial economy that keeps spawning new companies but again most Masters and PhD (>50%) students in Engineering, Math and Science are foreigners and the likely future entrepreneurs. If they are not let to stay in this country the entrepreneur sprit in them will take them else where.
'The World Is Flat', it surely doesn't matter if this wannabe entrepreneur is in Canada or China or India.
A PhD from these great universities can sure apply to stay here but just imagine if the system makes him/her wait for (5-8) years for a Greencard, is it welcoming? All these 5-8 years, he/she has to just wait, take no promotions, no pay hike and can�t start a company!
The same PhD can get him/her a Canadian equivalent of a Greencard in 6 months!
I live and work in Toronto, Canada, and let me tell you, Toronto is full of taxi drivers with PhDs and Masters degrees from other countries. Most Canadian employers insist on North American experience and North American education. The fact that it may be easier to immigrate to Canada than to the U.S. does not mean immigrants find work on par with their skills.
Don't forget that Homeland Security, Tom Tancredo, Pat Buchanan, .... think it is good for America to lose the global talent war.
Many countries in Europe don't have the equivalent of an H1B visa cap or the expensive, tortured, and twisted path to a Green Card that we have in America. In Sweden for example, if a company offers you a job, the government doesn't stand in the way.
As someone who has employed several on H1B visas, don't underestimate the power of expensive, bureaucratic, and over-regulatory visa rules to keep people we want here out.
Mr.X is talking about US educated graduates who have US work experience.
Its not easy for a US graduate (PhD/MS/Post Doc) to migrate to US. It takes any where from 5-10 years with an employer sponsorship to get a Greencard. These graduates have tough time getting their Drivers License/Visas renewed and forget starting a company.
Just 16% of total immigration quota is reserved for High Skilled Graduates in US (includes spouse and kids) and every else get in the Q for at least 5 years!
Agreed. I just met a Turkish woman with a Ph.D. in Chemistry in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and she is cleaning houses. That said, both Canada and the U.S., with relatively minor and sensible reforms, will continue to attract talented immigrant labour.
Your article doesn't make much sense. On one hand you admit that countries like Germany have a better, well-educated workforce which allows them to "export" talent to countries like the US, but then you conclude that the US is in a better position than other countries. How so? I mean the US doesn't even have much talent to meet their own needs. As another comment already states many university students in the US are actually foreigners and most of them are not here to stay. It seems you are missing the point. Shouldn't you ask "How would the US do without European and Asian talent?" or "What will the US do if talented foreigners would go elsewhere?". I am also laughing about your "edge" of speaking English. Do you realize that most major universities in Europe now teach in English? Your other points are also kind of mute. Actually many European or Asian cities have much more to offer than an average American city. It's also funny that you bring in commuting. Do you realize that public transportation in the US is a joke in comparison to countries like Germany? I am sorry, but this article is very badly researched... Better luck next time!
Companies only bring in H1B "talent" because they can get them cheaper than American Workers. Many of the H1B workers brought here don't even have the skills their resume claim, and most didn't even write their own resume. They are placed here by "body shops" that exist just to get them here.
The truth is, there is no shortage of skills here in America. There are millions of unemployed (or underemployed) programmers and other tech workers. But the bureau of statistics cvoers them up once they are employed as pizza delivery drivers instead of programmers or tech workers, because they are technically no longer counted among the unemployed.
The truth is, America is being eaten away from the inside. Our own people are being shut out of jobs they are qualified for, while foreginers with no cliam here are being invited to mcome and take those jobs. Its been a farce for 15 years, and it looks like it wil lonly get worse now that the Dems have taken over. They support raising the H1B cap yet again, which I can;t fo rthe life of me understand. I thought the Dems were supposed to be on the side of working people.
I would disagree that there are many overqualified american workers that are shut out of jobs because of foreign influx. I will however say that too many American students are foregoing hard science training. If we truly want to continue to compete and innovate against a much more competitive globla climate we must refocus on educating our youth in the maths and sciences. I am in the biology field and it is actually a *plus* that I am American because so many students are foreigners nowadays.
People have always voted with their feet in favor of the United States. I'm glad this article tried to learn why.
Your comparisons with Europe seem to omit the UK, which: stangely enough also speaks English, has some of the top universities anywhere in the world (Oxford and Cambridge), probably the most profitable financial centre anywhere (the city of London), amongst the highest inward migration anywhere, oh, and the mcLaren Mercedes are designed in England, not Germany.
"Living big in America" should be called this article
I think America is a civilized country but if you think you are the number one you must be drinking something.
I have double citizenship and I must tell you, we are talking now about big sharks and global domination.They want to control the world ,not America which is quite a challenge.So you "americans" and "europeans",watch Bush's friends and you will be suprised how they place their money.
Speaking from experience, as a Canadian who did his PhD in engineering at MIT and now works for a German-owned company in the US, the US is far more attractive to talent. There are frustrations with the immigration system, and I think Canada and Australia may have a better idea there. But the key points are the true meritocracy in the US, the availability of interesting and demanding jobs, the ease of entrepeneurship, and the friendliness of the people.
I also find the focus in the comments on technical knowledge to be amusing. Yes, half my MIT PhD class was foreign, but I think the US is very strong because there are many paths to success. A lot of wealth is generated through real estate, financial transactions, basic services, logistics, etc. I believe young Americans pursuing an education understand this and don't go into engineering unless that tickles their fancy. And if you need that electrical engineering genius to make your idea work, you can offer her enough money to bring her on board.
Sure, we should refocus on educating our youth in scientific and technical disciplines. But let's not kid ourselves about the reason why American students are foregoing hard science and technology training. They are foregoing it because they know that employers are using the H-1B program to replace American engineers and IT workers with low wage indentured servants from third world nations.
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