Some of my colleagues and friends have called me ‘paranoid,’ ‘crazy,’ and ‘apocalyptic,’ but I continue to stick to my guns on the issue of America’s intellectual decay. Our economic and cultural dominance has always stemmed from our ability to attract and retain the best-of-the-best intellectuals from around the globe, and our ability to nurture and grow our own base of talent. Our military dominance is also clearly predicated on our economic and intellectual superiority. In short, we can out spend and out gun all others because during the Twentieth Century we built the world’s greatest base of knowledge and talent.

Quite some time ago our ability to cultivate our own internal talent began to fade (witness the poor state of our primary and secondary educational systems), and over time (especially since 9/11) we have failed to garner the rest of the world’s best, largely due to immigration regulations. We are just starting to see the effects that this will have on our competitive advantage in the global marketplace. If nothing changes, we will see a rapid and painful descent into economic mediocrity and a marked decrease in the average standard of living.

American college students are not entering the fields that will give us a competitive edge, such as engineering, computer science, applied mathematics, and other hard sciences (see “A Red Flag in the Brain Game,” BusinessWeek, May 1, 2006). It is a well-established fact that we are not graduating enough of these students to fill our domestic needs. And, because of the difficulty in obtaining H-1B visas, we are training highly qualified foreigners and then sending them off to other countries, even though many would love to stay here and contribute to our society. In addition, increasing regulations on basic research and development, manifested in rules regarding public funding through NIH and the like, are driving more and more intellectuals to countries with less restrictions (witness how we have fallen behind many other nations in the realm of stem cell research).

Just micro-anecdotally, it is clear that this is having an impact on our economy. In our business (Web development and Web strategy), I see how the dearth of qualified programmers is causing us some consternation. It is even hard for us to sponsor foreign programmers, as the visa process is laborious, intensive, and competitive. The wage pressures on competent and experienced programmers in this country are dumbfounding. It astounds me to no end the number of Americans who do not see this. They recognize our decline as a manufacturing juggernaut (which is problematic in other ways beyond the scope of this current rant), yet they are concomitantly in complete denial of our decline in intellectual production capacity (i.e. the services industry).

All empires end, and many such ends are the result of hubris. I am not a reactionary – I am simply a realist. Can we stymie this trend? Certainly, but it will take a change in perception on our part, an acceptance of the situation, and significant shift in policy.

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