The Other Immigration Idiocy

In its email update of Feb. 10, the New York Times said:

"Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad.  The American system of higher education, long the envy of the world, is starting to become an important export."

The article explains how New York University received a $50 million grant to set up a branch college in Abu Dhabi:

In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities - not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia - are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

This is imbecilic from the American point of view.  Although our government-mandated elementary education system is really bad by international standards, our free-market, highly competitive university system has long been the envy of the world.  For years and years, the best and the brightest students came from all over the world to study in America.

This offered America a number of benefits:

  • Foreign students' tuition and living expenses helped with our balance of payments.
  • Foreigners formed friendships with American students.  Having contacts abroad helps Americans do business overseas.
  • Foreigners developed business contacts in America which helped them do business in America.
  • Foreign students learned a great deal about our way of life.
  • Many became so enamored with American freedoms that they decided to stay.  When that happened, we avoided the public cost of their K-12 education -- they became taxpayers with much less public investment than citizens whom we had to educate from birth.

The last point is particularly important.  Very few college graduates have whatever it takes to start new businesses.  You'll find that a disproportionate share of the businesses in Silicon Valley were founded by foreigners who decided to stay and prosper.

By recruiting students from among the best other nations could offer to found businesses here, we generate a great deal of income tax revenue for our government along with prosperity and economic growth for the rest of us.

It's vital to recruit the best students from every nation to come to the US and found businesses.  When I was in college, a disproportionate number of engineering students were from Taiwan or mainland China.  When they graduated, they went to work for HP, RCA, IBM, and other techno-giants; some such as Dr. An Wang founded businesses.  Wang Labs generated major revenue until Dr. Wang died and his successors couldn't carry on, but our economy benefited hugely from his business and technical genius while he was alive.  There's a Wang building at Mass General Hospital, for example.

Countries such as Taiwan which lost their best people to us didn't like the situation very much. When they asked their graduates to come back and found businesses, however, they received a polite raspberry -- "too many bureaucratic horsefeathers" was the general sentiment.

In 1973, Taiwan lost its seat on the UN Security Council in favor of mainland China.  The Kuomintang government realized that world politics was running against them.

The UN is made up of many small nations each of which has the same vote as the bigger nations.  The Taiwanese government realized that if they could accumulate enough foreign exchange to bribe, oops, encourage, smallish governments to support their positions, they could preserve their power and influence for a time.  The problem was how to get the foreign exchange; bribing an entire nation usually costs more than bribing a US Senator.

The simplest solution to was to persuade their high-level engineering graduates to come back and start businesses, so they asked them again.  "We said, too many horsefeathers," they were told.  "How about a bit less government red tape?  What if we give you special zones where there's less licensing, fewer permits, and so on?"

"Not good enough," the entrepreneurs replied.  "In the US, we can start a business for $500 and a few hours filling out forms.  We need special trade zones, that's a non-negotiable, but the only way we'll do it is if there's no red tape at all.  We can do anything we like.  Import anything, export anything.  Set up our own phone systems, electrical generation, port facilities, whatever we want.  We'll pay taxes, we'll make you lots of money, but you gotta get out of the way!"

The only thing governments hate more than giving up power is being conquered by another country and losing it all.  Kuomintang officials knew that the mainland government knew their names and would remember various unpleasantries of the Chinese civil war.

The mere threat of being hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully.  The certainty of being put in labor camps unless they could buy enough friendships to keep the mainland from invading persuaded the bureaucracy to be reasonable.  It took considerable nifnawwing, but the government finally caved in and said, "OK, no horsefeathers."

Not being stupid, the expats sent a few Taiwanese who held US citizenship -- an important "get out of jail free" card in case the government turned out to have been lying.  Amazingly, the government kept its promises.

With the bureaucracy out of the way, businesses prospered mightily.  Taiwanese flocked back to the old country and founded more and more businesses.  After a short while, all the PC components which had been made in the US were being made in Taiwan.  At one time, the Taiwanese government held more foreign exchange per capita than any country on the face of the earth, all because they got out of the way in order to entice their US-trained expats to come home.

We'd have lost the PC business to the Chinese mainland at some point, but we'd have kept it in the US for a long time if the Kuomintang hadn't been so afraid of being "reeducated" by the mainland Chinese that they agreed to make business conditions so attractive that their citizens gave up US residency and came home.  In a similar fashion, though for different reasons, the Irish government prospered by reducing taxes and red tape.

Having a government voluntarily cut taxes and red table simultaneously is rare enough that we don't have to worry about too many other governments doing that.  We should clearly continue our policy of educating the best and brightest the world has to offer so that the start businesses here instead of educating them in their native countries so that they can start businesses over there which compete with our businesses over here.

Our universities know this; they understand how well our system worked for many years.  Why, then, are they setting up separate campuses to teach overseas students how to compete with us without trying to plug them into the US economy?

For the same reason that IBM and Microsoft set up development laboratories in foreign countries where they teach the best and brightest how to compete with us in the future -- our government is too stupid to let us hire them to come work in the US.

Our educational system has never given us enough engineering graduates to support our economy; my clients were hiring programmers from England back in the early 1980s.  IBM, Microsoft, and the others can't operate with hiring foreign workers.  Our government is too stupid to let these companies move the foreigners here where they can pay US income tax; our government forces our high-tech companies to hire foreigners in their own countries where they pay income tax to foreign governments and learn how to compete with us from over there.

Similarly, our government is so brain-dead that it won't to give foreign students visas to come to the US to study.  Since our government won't let their customers come to them, our universities are setting up foreign branches so they get at least some of the business.

Not only do we lose the benefits of having foreign students learn our way of life and get some understanding of how democracy really works, we lose all the income, all the jobs, all the tax revenue, all the economic growth that they'd produce if they founded businesses in the US.  How dumb can we get?

Our government should want to make it possible for businesses to prosper if only as sources of tax revenue.  Keeping students and high-value employees out of the US while admitting millions of uneducated, undocumented workers who sneak into the country is just plain imbecilic.

It's a Dragnet decision.  You remember the opening music, dumb, dumb dumb dumb, DUMB!  How dumb can we get?  REAL dumb!

The Downward Slide

When government gets so complex and so cumbersome that it can no longer discern what's in the national interest, we're getting near the tipping point where we slide down into the abyss at the bottom of the Confucian cycle.

Government is supposed to look out for the national interest.  As a very wise businessman said many years ago, "May God preserve me from my friends; my enemies I can handle."

The problems caused by unfettered illegal immigration of the uneducated can be seen in practically every Home Depot parking lot and maternity ward in the country.  The problems caused by preventing the immigration of the highly skilled may not be so obvious, but will cost us a lot more.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
The only purpose of a University is to expand its endowment. Education is a veil they use. They gouge us with tuition increasing at more than twice the rate of inflation. They've milked the American market dry - they're just moving on to the gullible Saudis now. I'm not surprised. You shouldn't be either.
February 20, 2008 3:51 AM
This circumstance of American universities entering new markets in a number of countries is just the natural outcome of:
1. Our new tight imigration policies
2. Online universities operating overseas
3. The poor university systems in many countries
4. Industrialization and Information Age progress in many formally agricultural or subsistance countries
5. Normal and natural expansion of education when the local market becomes tight
6. Change from oil to hydrogen economy - before money flow stops to petroleum rich countries

I have been expecting this to happen since I started thinking about it in the early 1970s when I enrolled in a nontraditional bachelors degree program in Hawaii. I went on to earn two doctorates, two related earned masters degrees, and earned a variety of graduate credits beyond the degree programs. I have been a professor and a dean in more than one nontraditional universities.

I think the real innovation will come when we start employing new research in how our brain reacts to a learning environment. We really need to get away from the industrial or factory model used today in almost all educational settings.
February 28, 2008 11:51 PM
A year goes by and they're still keeping foreign students out. Government never learns.

Scientists Fear Visa Trouble Will Drive Foreign Students Away
Foreign students are having a difficult time obtaining permission to study in the United States.
March 3, 2009 10:06 AM
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