February 15, 2017

GLANZEL | Let Silicon Valley Thrive: Part I

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Silicon Valley is quickly becoming the beating heart of the American economy. The American tech industry is rapidly developing the capacity to touch the economic, social and political infrastructure of every major nation across the globe. The immense potential contained by Silicon Valley demands that government create an environment in which the tech industry can grow. This article is the first in a two-part series in which I will look at the steps the federal government should take to help foster growth in America’s rapidly expanding technology base.

Before delving into the specific policy actions the government should implement, I want to emphasize one major point: Silicon Valley is good. The tech industry has long had a mixed reputation, as many believe that tech firms are greedy corporations that exploit foreign workers and erode the American industrial base. Certainly, the tech world is not perfect, and many firms engage in controversial business tactics. However, Silicon Valley, and the tech industry as a whole, generally functions as a force for good. The information boom generated by America’s tech firms has allowed the greatest flow of information in the history of mankind, as billions of people now have access to previously inaccessible information. This newfound accessibility has resulted in an expansion of democracy and human rights, increased access to medical information and an explosion in literacy and education.

Moving forward, federal and state governments must willingly recognize that the tech industry serves as a force for good. Considering Silicon Valley’s benefits to society are innumerable, the government must foster an environment in which tech companies can thrive and thus further benefit society.

The first step that the government must take to grow Silicon Valley is a somewhat controversial proposal: embrace globalization. The vast majority of today’s tech companies operate under the philosophy that the world must embrace a greater sense of interconnection. The most obvious example of this is Facebook –– a company  dedicated solely to making the world a smaller place via social media. To grow and expand the tech world, the government must create an environment in which this interconnectedness, and the subsequent free flow of information and ideas across borders, can occur.

To allow this free flow of information, the federal government must expand free trade. The current administration seems rather hostile to this proposal; President Trump recently signed an executive order that removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Furthermore, Trump has routinely criticized free trade at rallies and major speeches. This hostility to free trade is somewhat understandable –– the president is under the impression that free trade has resulted in the decline of American manufacturing. However, Trump seems to miss the innumerable benefits of free trade. Free trade allows hardware to be produced at low rates for tech firms –– which, in turn, allows the firms to sell tech products at lower prices. With these lower prices, more people have the capacity to buy these products, which allows a greater and more widespread access to information.

The second step that the government must take with regards to globalization is yet again another idea that engenders hostility from the current administration: immigration reform. Currently, America’s universities provide the strongest science, technology, engineering and math curriculums in the world. The strength of America’s universities attracts some of the brightest minds from across the globe, as students from Asia and Europe flock to America’s ivory towers for education. Unfortunately, the current immigration system fosters a sort of revolving door for these foreigners. Though these students leave their homes for an American education, the complexity of our byzantine immigration system makes it extremely difficult for them to remain in the United States after completing their education. As a result, these foreign students do not use their skills in the United States, and instead return to work in their home countries.

The immense loss of talent due to foolish immigration complexities is one of the great tragedies of our nation’s broken immigration system. Through this loss of talent, companies across the tech world fail to gain access to brilliant minds that could help to develop revolutionary software and hardware. To retain this talent in the short term, the federal government should expand H-1B Visas. H-1B Visas allow foreign workers with extensive technical training to remain in the United States and work for an American company. The expansion of these visas would allow thousands of talented workers to use their education to benefit U.S. companies.

In the long term, however, the government must be willing to make fundamental changes to the way our immigration system operates. We must give talented scholars and workers the opportunity to become U.S. citizens –– a change that will benefit not only Silicon Valley, but industries across the nation.
Michael Glanzel is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Thursdays this semester.