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America is Immigrants’ Future, and America’s Future is Immigrants

Friday, July 6, 2012

On Independence Day this week, the United States celebrated its 236th birthday. As we embrace liberty and reflect upon America as a beacon of freedom around the world, it is nearly impossible to forget the difficult straits in which our country currently finds itself. Stagnant unemployment, crippling debt, rising deficits, and the seemingly unstoppable erosion of our manufacturing base – along with deep social and political polarization – call into serious question the once inexhaustible possibilities of American promise. If the twentieth century was the “American Century,” will the twenty-first century inevitably be claimed by another emerging nation?

Not a chance, according to Rob Asghar, a Fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy. In a recent piece for the Huffington Post, Asghar makes a strong case that, in spite of its problems, America will remain an unmatched world economic power well into the future ( While it is generally assumed that China or India will inevitably surpass the United States, Asghar reminds us that their explosive growth is not nearly as impressive at it appears when one considers their gross domestic product. Per capita, China ranks 94th in the world, while India is no higher than 120th by most measures. In addition, these countries both still face daunting infrastructure challenges that belie their progress. For instance, with respect to the percentage of their roads that are paved, both roughly rank 80th in the world. In addition, China’s healthcare system is painfully ill-prepared to handle its aging population, and while India’s population boasts 600 million cell phones, most of its 1.2 billion citizens lack flushing toilets.

But what is truly holding back economic progress by these countries and other potential competitors like Brazil and Russia is cultural. Asghar cites the ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu’s classic Tao Te Ching to shed light on how “disruption, individualism, and innovation are heretical in many traditional societies,” often being met with a backlash. And sure enough, China and India respectively rank 31st and 40th in innovation in the World Economic Forum's 2011-2012 global competitiveness index.

So what will always give America its edge over such nations? Asghar sums it up neatly when he declares:

“The United States has unique cultural and demographic traits – for better and for worse: American culture is tilted toward valuing disruptive new ideas and welcoming the immigrant who brings such ideas into its society. An individualistic, heterogeneous, novelty-seeking American culture, strengthened by a critical mass of interdisciplinary American research universities that draw the world’s best minds, represents a considerable edge in social and economic innovation.”

As long as America continues to provide fertile ground for innovation, it will remain a magnet for immigrants. And as long as immigrants continue to flock here, America will be on firm footing to retain its economic lead through innovation for decades to come. It’s a uniquely American story that continues to be written, through mountains and prairies, from sea to shining sea.

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