Mar 17, 2007

Nurturing Brains

Cartoon showing Bill Gates watering a plant growing Brains

The world is changing (once again). The hangovers of the colonial age and the unequal distribution of knowledge and industry is being corrected, ironically through unbridled capitalism.

It has been over 60 years since the end of the Second World War, and other nations have had time to wake up and smell the money. The realization that money rather than military force is the way to gain prestige and influence, in today's world, has motivated many nations to happily jump into the free-trade market. The Asians are now playing the West at their own game.

Multinational corporations don't have any patriotic allegiances themselves, so they invest wherever they can get greater returns. However, people staffing these corporations are human, and feel the need to express human concerns.

Now the world's wealthiest man, Bill Gates, having retired from active duty at his firm, has time to think along these lines. He has just published an article in The Washington Post - 'How to Keep America Competitive'. He starts with the latest term for research and development - 'innovation' - and all the factors that are not helping it. US primary education in science not producing world level competitors, immigration not being as friendly as possible to higher skilled candidates, retention of skilled workforce not working.

From the rest of the world's perspective, though US is currently the center of innovation, this is not expected to be the future model. Knowledge has no borders these days, and world-class scientific facilities are being developed all over the world. With the lowering of the cost of communications, geographic location is not such a big deal. The world is becoming more open and providing greater opportunities of experience and economic advancement everywhere. The US does not quite have the pull that it used to. Many international US graduates prefer to try out opportunities back home.

It is also a pattern that those who tend to become complacent in their position are sometimes surprised by those who are fiercely and desperately fighting to find their place in the world. Immigrants, by their very definition are pioneers - they have left their known world behind to seek out new territories. They come with a lot of optimism, plans and expectations. They will work much harder to achieve their aims. The pain of leaving their native lands and people has to be compensated for attaining substantial material and economic profit.

After the Second World War, the Unites States acquired a priceless knowledge advantage, from Germans and other European immigrants. People like Wernher von Braun, creator of the Nazi V2-rockets (which bombed London), who should have been tried for war crimes, were instead given amnesty and quietly inducted into US research programs, where he went on to design space rockets for NASA. Albert Einstein fled Europe to live and teach for the remainder of his life in US. Other scientist immigrants of this time also include Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Felix Bloch, Emilio Segre and Eugene Wigner. In fact, Americans rarely won Nobel Prizes before 1950.

With all eyes on the money, the value and quality of human beings is regularly underestimated. It's good to see a refocus on this topic.

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