The United States’ potential advantages today are in large part a product of immigration. Without immigration, the United States’ GDP growth of the last quarter century would have been the same as Europeans. Native-born white Americans have the same low fertility rates as Europeans. Foreign students and immigrants account for 50 percent of the science researchers in the country and in 2006 received 40 percent of the doctorates in science and engineering and 65 percent of the doctorates in computer science. By 2010, foreign students will get more than 50 percent of all the Ph.D.’s awarded in every subject in the United States. In the sciences, that figure will be closer to 75 percent. Half of all Silicon Valley start-ups have one founder who is an immigrant or a first-generation American. In short, the United States’ potential new burst of productivity, its edge in nanotechnology and biotechnology, its ability to invent the future–all rest on its immigration policies. If the United States can keep the people it educates in the country, the innovation will happen there. If they go back home, the innovation will travel with them.
Immigration also gives the United States a quality rare for a rich country–dynamism. The country has found a way to keep itself constantly revitalized by streams of people who are eager to make a new life in a new world. Some Americans have always worried about such immigrants–whether from Ireland or Italy, China or Mexico. But these immigrants have gone on to become the backbone of the American working class, and their children or grandchildren have entered the American mainstream. The United States has been able to tap this energy, manage diversity, assimilate newcomers, and move ahead economically. Ultimately this is what sets the country apart from the experience of Britain and all other past great economic powers that have grown fat and lazy and slipped behind as they faced the rise of leaner, hungrier nations.
“The Future of American Power”
Foreign Affaris May/June
Excerpted from The Post-American World, 2008
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