What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Is the U.S. Still the "Land of the Free?"

January 31, 2012, 12:00 AM
Statue%20of%20liberty

What's the Big Idea?

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free... Immigration is an integral part of the story Americans tell themselves about who they are. A paper in the Journal of Politics found that more than 90% of Americans believe that just thinking of one's self as American is an essential factor in being American. And the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world with no official language - surely the hallmark of a society that is not only tolerant, but pluralistic.

So why is it so difficult to immigrate here?

That's the question Kevin Ryan, founder of the Internet startup Gilt Groupe, has been asking for years. "You might have someone from Pakistan, who has a masters in Computer Science and wants to come to the United States to get a job. I would argue that that’s incredibly beneficial for our economy," he says. "It's really becoming a business problem."

It's also a political one. There's a reason why both Democratic and Republican politicians get tongue-tied when the subject is raised in debates: the mythology of the melting pot looms left, right, and center - but even as it retains its prominent place in the American psyche, the facts suggest that the ideal of a "nation built by immigrants" may be receding.

What's the Significance?

According to the United Nations' World Population Policies report, the percentage of foreign-born citizens in the U.S. pales in comparison to countries like Canada and Singapore. In terms of diversity, the land of the free is actually much closer to Sweden, a society that most Americans would probably consider homogenous.

The H1B visa, for instance, allows international students and professionals to stay in the country for a period of six years, but is capped at just 85,000 per year. One Australian writer who recently obtained a green card estimates that she spent more than a year (and $4000) in the process - despite having been sponsored by an employer. 

In contrast, "China’s economy is getting an unintended boost when American educated scientists and engineers take their skills back home... as Think Tank blogger An Phung wrote in a previous post. "Economist Nick Schulz [has said]... 'there is awide consensus among those who have studied the issue that skilled immigrants are a net positive for the receiving country.'”

Now, American businesses are starting to wonder if the country's restrictive immigration system is not only unwelcoming, but expensive. Ryan's fellow tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadwha points to three recent studies that indicate that when workers migrate to the U.S., everyone benefits - including, perhaps even especially, the native-born: 

  • Analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy shows that immigrants were founding leaders at nearly half of the venture-funded companies in the U.S., creating 150 jobs per company.
  • Economics professor Madeleine Zavodny found that foreign-born adults with advanced degrees in the STEM sectors were "strong net generators of jobs for native-born American workers" - undermining the political, us-versus-them argument that allowing more immigrants into the U.S. will reduce the number of jobs available for native-born workers. 
  • According to Wadwha's own research, "in a quarter of the U.S. engineering and technology companies founded from 1995 to 2005, the chief executive or lead technologist was foreign-born."

The solution, says Ryan, is to raise the cap on the number of visas awarded each year in the U.S. "Anything we can do that has more [job] training [for the people who call America home] and more visas for qualified people I think is great."  

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

More from the Big Idea for Tuesday, January 31 2012

Power and Influence

"We are the only country that has the capacity to take in people and 'make them American,'" says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. But who decides who gets to be an American? Bil... Read More…

 

Is the U.S. Still the "Land...

Newsletter: Share: