Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fred Smith...at this table...for the hour

Charlie Rose interviewed Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, last night. Smith has been rumored as a possible cabinet member in a McCain administration. But I don't want to talk too much about Smith, except for an exchange near the end of the interview.

I want to like Charlie Rose without reservation, really I do. His show, for the most part, remains free from the cross-talking mess that most other discussion shows have become (as if we should take John McLaughlin as our model). Charlie tends to ask pretty strong questions about foreign policy, trying to delve into the relationship of the U.S. to the rest of the world.

But, as I have pointed out before, Charlie can be pretty credulous about economic matters, especially when he hosts business leaders. Now I'm sure that I'd be pretty impressed if I were sitting at a table with Smith, or Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett, maybe a little cowed, but Charlie should have enough experience not to let that happen. But it happens every time.

It's no surprise that Fred Smith believes we should increase our visas, that we should upgrade our secondary schools, that we should support maximal globalization however we can. However, for some reason, I continue to expect better from Charlie. Instead, he cackles some inanity and quotes Tom Friedman.

Actually, he misquotes Tom Friedman in a revealing way. He tells us that Friedman believes we should attach visas to all diplomas earned by foreign-born students (and Smith readily agreed). What Friedman actually wrote: "I think any foreign student who gets a Ph.D. in our country — in any subject — should be offered citizenship." (This is from May of 2007.)

I've written about this before, I will again, and I want to keep this post brief, so I'll pick up on just one thread. Friedman's point is actually more supportable than that of Rose and Smith. I don't think we have the right number of foreign students coming here to go to school, mainly because we've provided some perverse incentives to universities that make foreign students more attractive. That there are foreign students knocking Americans out of slots in public universities, when the American families have helped support those institutions through tax dollars, in the name of mostly spurious diversity, seems wrong.

And I don't agree with Friedman about the "any subject" part; we don't need more medieval history scholars, wherever they come from. But allowing truly talented people to immigrate here does improve this nation, as long as we're being pretty stringent on the definition of "truly talented."

But to go further and offer visas to every college graduate is a policy of nonsense. I have reservations as to the extent that we're educating the world, especially when we are providing that education to the very people who will be competing with us. If we want to remain competitive, a positive step would be to restrict the granting of diplomas (I'm not arguing that we should eliminate that, just that we need to work harder to determine an acceptable number).

Perhaps when we guarantee a good job to every existing college graduate, maybe then we can confer a visa with the diploma. Until then, let's not hand an additional benefit to the foreign-born with no concomitant benefit to the taxpaying American. Either that, or insist on reciprocation: Let our students pay $750 for each year at Friedman's fabled Indian Institute of Technology, then give each one of them an Indian visa. Then we can start talking.

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J said...
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