Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Why People Constantly Underestimate the USA

Every so often a new wave of angst comes across the United States, fanned by the popular media (always looking for a story, and focusing on the negative ones) that we are going to "run out" of a certain type of professional. Pick any type of profession, and it is likely at some point an article was written that their demise was imminent, including 1) teachers 2) medical professionals 3) engineers 4) programmers...

The stories have a familiar arc - 1) conditions in the profession are imperfect 2) people in the professions express dissatisfaction "I wouldn't want my son to become a doctor" 3) some simple extrapolation of the # of students in the pipeline "proves" that we have a crisis.

Want examples? They are everywhere on the web. Here is one from USA Today about the imminent doctor shortage. Here is one from CBS about the imminent nurse shortage. Here is one from the normally reliable Fox News about the teacher shortage. Here is one from the Christian Science Monitor about the engineer shortage. Pretty much go to GOOGLE and type in any profession plus the word "shortage" and some articles will pop up, or check your news around "sweeps" time.

However, these examples miss a critical difference about why these sorts of shortages DON'T significantly impact us (in the medium term) in the United States:

- our free market system which reallocates salaries / benefits / capital to match supply and demand or figures out alternate solutions
- the fact that people from around the world desperately want to come to the US and they take advantage of these opportunities through their own ingenuity
- ultimately, unlike any other country in the world (except UK, Canada, Australia) these smart and ambitious people become assimilated into the US and become permanent contributors to our country's growth (along with their families)

Want to see a REAL shortage? Recently many articles have been written about the health care situation in the Philippines. The Philippines is facing a true crisis because their nurses and doctors are leaving in droves for the United States (and Western Europe). The conditions in the Philippines are so bad that doctors are training themselves as nurses because the licensing requirements for nurses (once you reach the US) are so much less stringent than getting certified as a doctor. Here is one article there are others out there for research, as well.

Why is the situation in the Philippines so much more acute than in the US? Because business opportunities (less corruption) and safety (no kidnappings) are so much better in the US, there is a natural draw of the skilled away from these sorts of countries. Unfortunately for the world as a whole, nurses and doctors are very much needed in these sorts of countries and it is sad that our economic problems are solved by decimating the health care of another country. However, it is simple economics that drives these sorts of decisions, and countries can mitigate them by adopting better economic and security policies.

If you view the world's resources as fixed and man's ingenuity as capped (like most liberals) than every problem is an insurmountable cul-de-sac. However, the US can tap into the entire world's resources due to our strong economy, relative safety, rule of law, and freedom of religion and we solve our problems on the backs of those that try to solve problems via command and control.

The sad part is that we aren't EXPLICITLY seeking out highly skilled workers. If we wanted to, we could flood the country with engineers, scientists, programmers, or any other type of specific profession, merely by allowing them to emigrate to the US and reducing the guild-like barriers of professions like medicine. These intelligent and motivated people would make the country better and raise our overall standard of living, by unleashing their capabilities which are stunted by their home country's conditions.

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