Last March, I took one look at a column by Thomas Friedman on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s trade policies and concluded that the multiple New York Times Pulitzer winner must have been hacked. Any other interpretation would have meant that Friedman was either stunningly ignorant about these subjects or (at best) willfully ignorant.
A year later, it’s painfully obvious that either some impostor is still publishing pieces with The Times, or that Friedman is still reality-challenged. His March 29 offering contains the same kinds of trade fakeonomics and crackpot geopolitics as that piece I spotlighted last March. But even worse this time around are some out-and-out howlers about major implications of the Trump administration’s travel ban proposals.
According to Friedman, President Trump wants to “make it harder for people to immigrate to America, particularly Muslims. This…signals the smartest math and science students in the world to start their start-ups overseas and not in America. “
As evidence, Friedman writes that “NBC News reported last week that applications from foreign students, notably from China, India and the Middle East, ‘are down this year at nearly 40 percent of schools that answered a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.’”
In other words, could any Trump policy be more catastrophically dumb, especially over the long-term? The trouble is, when you look at these matters in any depth whatever, you realize how deeply silly these claims and fears are. In the first place, the idea that foreign students on U.S. college campuses are all or mainly or even disproportionately academic superstars is completely fallacious. And nowhere is it more fallacious than in the case of Chinese students.
For anyone knowing anything about contemporary China knows that it’s become one of the world’s leading plutocracies. The wealthy generally either make (or keep or lose) their fortunes depending on their connections with or via help from the Chinese government, or are comprised of political leaders themselves who have exploited their power and contacts to become millionaires many times over. Given the astronomical costs of American higher education (especially by the standards of even the typical Chinese urban – meaning relatively well-off – family), it could not be clearer that the main distinguishing characteristic of Chinese students on U.S. campuses is family money, not brains.
The money angle is further strengthened by admissions practices of so many American colleges and universities. After all, even well-endowed schools prize foreign students to a great extent because they’re wealthy enough to pay “full freight.” That is, they don’t need financial aid. Indeed, they’re profit centers. In fact, as I reported last October, a Reuters investigation found out that many Chinese students have gained access to American colleges and universities through payments to these institutions that can only be called corruption. In other words, their parents have bought their way in. Would most of this bribery be necessary if the kids were such geniuses?
Moreover, if you think that the money issue is confined to China, think again. For an expensive American college education is also far beyond the reach of most families in most of the rest of the world, too – especially the developing world.
As for the world’s math and science whizzes, especially from the Muslim world, avoiding the United States and choosing other regions and countries to open up businesses, ask yourself the simple question, “Like where?” Economically speaking, America’s growth prospects continue looking brighter – as they have for most of the current global recovery – than those of other major economies. The United States also offers among the world’s best levels of intellectual property protection.
And as for tech whizzes from the Muslim world, does Friedman really think they’re going to be increasingly welcome in, say, Europe, given its understandable anxieties about Islamic extremism and global terrorism? Japan and South Korea, it’s widely known, aren’t welcoming to any immigrants. And the idea that China, which has long battled Muslim separatists in its western regions, is going to open its doors wider just doesn’t pass the laugh test.
Canada and Australia are unmistakably examples of national economies that are both successful and immigration- (and refugee-) friendly. But I’ll take my chances on America retaining its competitive edge over them for many decades to come.
These kinds of gargantuan goofs and omissions would be bad enough coming from a run-of-the-mill journalist or even pundits. Coming from Friedman, they are nothing less than appalling. For his almost uniquely lofty status stems for the most part from his (supposedly) unique knowledge of how the world works in the most fundamental senses. Indeed, he’s especially well known for writing books purporting to know what the world’s becoming in the same fundamental senses. Columns like his latest indicate that Friedman at best should spend more time learning about the present than predicting the future.