Dashing expectations, US president-elect Donald Trump has already signaled that much of the inflammatory rhetoric he employed during his campaign to win the White House has every chance of underpinning his administration’s program of government. Far from softening his agenda as the harsh realities of power begin to sink in, Trump has made a number of moves that imply many of the extreme policies he outlined while on the campaign trail are likely to make it on to the statute books.
Despite backtracking on further investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, Trump has this week been photographed with cabinet hopeful Kris Kobach, who was clutching a document detailing proposals for a border wall with Mexico, a register of Muslims, as well as the extreme vetting of immigrants. This came after the president-elect made a number of appointments to his team that suggested his administration would begin where his election campaign left off. Less than a week after securing his shock victory at the polls, Trump appointed Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of far-right website Breitbart News, as his chief strategist and senior counselor.
Bannon, whose critics have accused him of being a white supremacist and provocateur, has suggested there might be too many Asian executives in Silicon Valley, comments that fall broadly in line with the protectionist anti-immigrant sentiment that won Trump the election. Much like the UK in the aftermath of Brexit, Trump’s America looks ready to turn away highly-skilled immigrants, having been convinced that they are the reason their citizens have seen both jobs and their living standards decline. The British and American governments now talk of creating jobs and delivering prosperity, a rhetoric that could hardly be more counterintuitive given their anti-immigrant policies.
In citing Silicon Valley as an example of how too many immigrants are taking top jobs in the US, Bannon inadvertently highlights the contribution many of them make to the American economy. If Trump’s proposed policies had been in place 60-odd years ago, Steve Jobs’ biological father – who was born in Syria and is a Muslim – might not have been able to seek refugee status in the US, which would have certainly meant that Apple, now the most valuable company on the planet, wouldn’t have existed in its current form.
Both the US and Britain consider themselves to be exceptional, but as they close up to talented foreign workers, doors will open for the highly skilled elsewhere. Although few firms have made the move to date, many companies are mulling an exit from the UK once the process for Britain to leave the EU has been triggered, particularly those in the financial sector. When they leave, their talent will go with them, thereby presenting other countries with a great opportunity to capitalize on the policies the protectionist new order has left behind.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that Brexit presents his country with the chance to become Europe’s new financial capital, as banking talent drains from the UK. What he fails to acknowledge is that France has one of the highest tax burdens in the developed world and faces considerable anti-immigrant sentiment itself that would only be exacerbated if the far-right gains power after next year’s election. Unfortunately for France and other countries that are shifting to the right, the benefits of Brexit and a Trump presidency will be felt elsewhere.
As Britain and the US close up, countries including China and Saudi Arabia are tearing down barriers to trade. A recent $100 billion tech investment fund signed with Japan’s SoftBank highlighted Saudi Arabia’s desire to diversify by tapping into the information revolution. Tens of thousands of Americans and Britons are already working in Saudi, where the government looks to realign the country’s economy, promoting inward investment and its blossoming technology sector. More than 6000 British firms are actively exporting to Saudi Arabia and Riyadh is the London’s biggest commercial partner in the Middle East – and ties are set to grow even more.
If Bannon and Trump feel there are too many Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley and introduce policies aimed at limiting their number, start-ups owned by non-US citizens will increasingly look to Beijing, which is becoming a serious competitor to San Francisco Bay. It already counts several start-ups with $40 billion+ valuations, and, thanks to China’s immense population and extreme consumer adoption speed of new services, such companies can grow quicker than in the U.S.
Unfortunately for both the American and British people, this could have catastrophic consequences over the longer term. In the majority of cases, immigrants are not stealing jobs from Britons or Americans. Globalization has led to work being exported overseas from both countries, while technology and increased automation are making a growing number of vocations redundant. Neither of these developments are the fault of immigration policies. In fact, the UK and American economies would collapse if migrants withdrew their labor. Blaming foreign workers for the woes of the working poor is a cynical populist ploy that completely distorts economic reality.
What we’re seeing in the US and Britain could be the beginning of a monumental shift in the structure of the global economy. Instead of looking to the US and Britain, highly-skilled talent will likely begin their search for a nurturing environment in which to fulfill their potential elsewhere. While limiting immigration into countries such as the UK and America may save a few blue collar jobs for the countries’ nationals, it will also all but guarantee that the next Steve Jobs will make his fortune in other forward-looking nations – a situation that will ultimately end up costing those who have been seduced by anti-immigrant rhetoric dearly.
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