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Building the Knowledge Economy

Posted by on April 11, 2013.

Earlier this year, I started teaching a class on entrepreneurship at an after school program in my community. The middle school students put together business plans, made their products and even got an opportunity to sell them.

One day I asked my students what they thought about going to college. One of my top aspiring entrepreneurs told me he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to go to college because he’s “undocumented.” His family is from Mexico and they moved here when he was a baby. Many students in my community are in the same situation; they moved to the United States so early in their lives they have no memory of living anywhere else.

These students are smart and hard-working, and they should be part of our future.

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We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrations. And it's a policy unfit for today's world.

The economy of the last century was primarily based on natural resources, industrial machines and manual labor. It was an economy where many of these resources were zero sum and controlled by companies. If someone else had an oil field, then you did not. There are only so many oil fields, and there is only so much wealth that can be created from them for society.

Today’s economy is very different. It is primarily based on knowledge and ideas -- resources that are renewable and available to everyone. Unlike oil fields, someone else knowing something doesn't prevent you from knowing it too. In fact, the more people who know something, the better educated and trained we all are, the more productive we become, and the better off everyone in our nation can be.

This can change everything. In a knowledge economy, the most important resources are the talented people we educate and attract to our country. A knowledge economy can scale further, create better jobs and provide a higher quality of living for everyone in our nation.

To lead the world in this new economy, we need the most talented and hardest-working people. We need to train and attract the best. We need those middle school students to be tomorrow's leaders.

Given all this, why do we kick out the more than 40% of math and science graduate students who are not US citizens after paying to educate them? Why do we offer so few H1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year, even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return? Why don't we let entrepreneurs move here even when they have what it takes to start new companies that will create even more jobs?

We need a new approach, including:

- Comprehensive immigration reform that begins with effective border security, allows a path to citizenship and lets us attract the most talented and hardest working people, no matter where they were born.

- Higher standards and accountability in our schools, support for good teachers, and a much greater focus on learning about science, technology, engineering and math.

- Investment in breakthrough discoveries in scientific research, and assurance that the benefits of the inventions belong to the public and not just the few.

Changes like these won’t happen on their own.

That's why today I am proud to announce FWD.us.