On December 7, the Miller Center convened the 2012 Mortimer Caplin Conference on the World Economy at our offices in Washington, DC and at the National Press Club. Representatives from the academy, the government, and the private sector engaged in serious discussions about the true impact of current immigration provisions on American competitiveness, how proposals for high-skilled admissions can meet the needs of the U.S. economy, what effect such proposals might have on other policy goals (such as encouraging U.S. students to enter STEM fields), how those trade-offs should be managed, and the extent to which specific proposals serve national interests or instead primarily benefit particular industries or employers.
The concluding panel at the National Press Club featured University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, United States Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), and Founder and former CEO of AOL Steve Case. The panel was moderated by Alan Murray, Deputy Managing Editor and Executive Editor of The Wall Street Journal online edition and President of Pew Research Center (beginning January 2013). As Murray noted in his introduction, immigration is one issue that changed on the national landscape in the wake of the election. The outcome of the election has shaken up the politics and created the possibility for some movement on immigration legislation.
Steve Case noted that it is worth remembering that the nation was once a start-up. We didn’t become the leading economy by accident. It was the work of entrepreneurs who created companies and built the economy. In the history of the nation, the work of the risk-taking, pioneering entrepreneurs to help build this country is often overlooked. Case said the good news is that the U.S. is still the world’s most entrepreneurial nation. The bad news is that other nations have figured out that “the secret sauce” to a successful economy is an entrepreneurial economy. Other countries have modified their policies to become more entrepreneurial. Australia, for example, allows ten times more entrepreneurial visas. We are engaged in a global battle for talent, capital and ideas. Detroit rose on an idea propelled by entrepreneurs and fell when it lost its way. As a country, if we don’t change course, we will also fall. The issue of talent is central – as the old truism goes, an organization is only as good as it’s people. Case expressed frustration that we’ve been talking about high skilled reform for at least a decade. We have to do something quickly. Immigration should be less of a debate about a problem and more of a debate about opportunity.