The United “Sick Man” of America
Here are the Four Horsemen threatening to End America’s Superpower Status
Late 19th century China was coined the “Sick Man of Asia” for its incredible decline from former greatness. China’s economy had fallen behind, and its internal politics had become so divisive that social instability was the norm. Now, in the early 21st century, the United States appears to be in a similar terminal decline. The country that defined the 20th century has shirked responsibility for global leadership, mishandled a global pandemic, and now is experiencing mass unemployment and social instability along racial fault lines. This is Part One of a four part series that will look at how we got to this point. In another series, we will look at what must be done to reverse course.
The First Horseman that is leading the charge to America’s decline is a signature feature of the Trump administration: hostility toward immigrants, immigration, and xenophobia in general. I have written about the broader topic before, but it is worth taking a particular look at the actions that this administration has taken against skilled immigrants. While Trump and his supporters claim to be taking a stance against illegal immigration only, the rhetoric does not correspond with reality. Since taking office, the Trump administration has:
Raised fees and placed greater restrictions on H1B visas, visas for skilled professionals (usually in IT). There is also talk of possibly suspending the program altogether. Limited to 85,000 per year, American technology companies demand for H1B employees has long exceeded the supply.
Arbitrarily expelled over 3000 Chinese graduate students on spying allegations (but also admitted that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of any of those students)/Some GOP congressmen are drafting a bill that would ban all Chinese graduation students on the same flimsy basis.
The Trump administration is looking to restrict or ‘temporarily’ suspend the STEM OPT program, which allows some graduate students who studied Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to work in the US for up to three years after graduation, a key route by which skilled immigrants begin the journey toward US permanent residence.
Due to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and new purposely confusing visa overstay rules, higher visa fees, and the risks posed by a volatile and anti-immigrant administration, foreign students are increasing choosing not to study in American universities. After over a decade of rapid growth, the number of students coming to the US for education plunged by 9.6% in the school years immediately after Trump took office.
Why This is Bad News
The United States’ rise to superpower status was driving by entrepreneurial and inventive immigrants. In the US, a staggering 45% of Fortune 500 companies (Americas most valuable companies) were started by immigrants or their children. Together, these companies brought in $6.1 trillion of revenue in 2018 alone. Immigrants overall have founded 20% of all American businesses. Immigrants have and continue to create a massive amount of wealth for the US. Far from “taking our jobs,” immigration is “jobs engine.”
It is also an innovation engine. In STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), non-Americans account for an astonishing 54% of masters degrees and 44% of doctorate degrees issued by American universities. Many of these degree recipients choose to stay in the US after they graduate and work for American tech companies like Google, Microsoft, or Tesla.
With an economy that depends on innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, those numbers are deeply troubling. Not only is the US finding it harder to attract foreign talent, its growing hostility is also making it harder to keep that talent. Engineers, scientists, and other professionals from China and India are increasingly returning back to their home countries, building companies and products that compete with American ones…to the detriment of American jobs, wealth, and power. This is a reversal of the “brain drain” that has helped power American hegemony since WW2. By turning its back on the country’s immigrant roots, the USA is starving itself of talent when it needs it most.