A foreign policy scholar analyzes two decades of American policymaking to better understand the country’s uneasy posture toward globalized innovation, research, and development.
Kennedy (Public Policy/Australia National Univ.; The International Ambitions of Mao and Nehru, 2011, etc.) has long studied China and India. This book specifically examines the globalization of innovation, focusing on how the United States interacts with these two countries in the high-tech arena. Innovation, he says, increasingly involves collaboration. Modern transportation, information, and communications technologies facilitate cross-border exchanges of ideas, people, and investments—but politics, he points out, can constrain these activities. Kennedy considers policies that regulate admission of skilled immigrants, allocation of foreign student visas, and offshoring of research-and-development services. In the first of five concise, well-organized chapters, he quantifies transnational flows of brainpower and R&D investment, tracking the rise of foreign-born students in higher education, international co-authorship of scientific papers, and overseas laboratories opened by multinational corporations. Next, he characterizes the U.S. high-tech community, “HTC,” as an interest group with business and academic wings and proposes explanations for America’s varying levels of openness. The last three chapters test his hypotheses through case studies of immigration, student visas, and offshoring. Kennedy details how the H-1B visa program for skilled workers expanded before 2004 but declined as citizen groups intensified opposition. He finds more consistent policy in soaring F-1 visas for foreign students; a slight decline followed the 9/11 attacks, but the HTC’s academic wing faced little opposition in re-establishing an open-door policy. The HTC’s business wing, he says, has also been partially successful in defeating anti-offshoring proposals; again, citizen opposition groups proved more decisive than labor. Kennedy concludes that inconsistent American policies toward global innovation reflect domestic political battles rather than coherent strategy.
Drawing on research from 2017, the author also thoughtfully writes about whether anti-immigration fervor will recede after President Donald Trump leaves office, allowing more openness to collaboration with China and India. His last sentence: “Whether the United States will pursue such collaboration in a more intelligent way, one that addresses the shortcomings of its current approach, remains to be seen.” Throughout this work, Kennedy effectively demonstrates his thesis that innovation is indeed globalizing. His portrait of an ad-hoc legislative patchwork, driven more by intensity than by majority opinion, raises clear concerns about America’s future competitiveness. The text is replete with data and examples and supported with numerous graphs and tables, but the narrative flow never stumbles or feels overburdened. Overall, Kennedy writes with a clarity and command of his subject, and this provides an easy path for readers to follow. Extensive endnotes and a 34-page bibliography substantiate his prodigious research, which includes interviews with 72 sources from government, business, labor and citizen groups in all three nations at hand. As President Trump pursues trade battles abroad and an anti-immigration agenda at home, this cogent work from a seasoned observer of Asia and the United States could not be more timely—or, indeed, more necessary.
A must-read for policymakers but one that’s not too wonkish for lay readers.