Protecting America’s Tech Prowess Amid the Hostile Rhetoric of 2017

Opinion

With the inauguration of Donald Trump as president on January 20th, the editors asked some of our Xconomists to offer their thoughts on “How could the incoming administration significantly affect your industry?”

My biggest concern would be a failure to recognize and take full advantage of the fact that America’s biggest asset is its technological prowess. Along with that comes the responsibility of leadership in developing the consensus to make long term investments in research and education and manage them effectively.

A lot of the technological innovation in the United States is done by recent immigrants who obtained their graduate degrees here, and who could, within a decade, choose to return—thereby gutting America’s technological superiority. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, projects that by 2019  “India’s GDP [gross domestic product] will exceed that of Japan and Germany combined”. India’s GDP has already overtaken the UK and France. The competition is global and the nation, under Trump’s leadership, needs to address that.

Visa regulations are blunt instruments that can’t be counted on to address fine-grained challenges in employment opportunities, wages, and the power of new nimble business processes. The short-term consequences are often painful for some individuals, but one often assumes that the nation is better served by the long-term benefits.

That said, I have a long-term concern of my own: The ready availability of an internationally trained work force reduces the need for U.S. corporations to work with K-12 educators and university researchers to address U.S. workforce needs. It also leaves our country vulnerable to sudden shifts in the interests of the diverse population of foreign-trained undergrads who currently make up a significant segment of many U.S. graduate programs. Hostile political rhetoric could exacerbate this vulnerability, and that could significantly affect our technological prowess.

[Editor’s note: You can read other responses to our questions here.]

Ramesh Rao is professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC San Diego, and director of the San Diego Division of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology. Follow @

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