It’s always good to listen to a billionaire’s opinions, especially when he’s Bill Gates, someone who has made his fortune by foretellling the future before any one else and whose foundations put his money where his mouth is.
A couple of weeks ago, he made three points worth remembering. One, a well-educated workforce, not tax breaks, is the key to luring high tech business. Two, a country can never have too many geniuses. Three, high school education in this nation is broken badly.
First, tax breaks. In a speech to a packed house at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ meeting in Seattle, he made his point simply and directly. Asked what government can do to attract jobs, he said: “The industries that I think about most…are far more sensitive to the quality of talent in the area than they are to tax policies. If you are coming up with a breakthrough in medicine, it doesn’t matter if you’re paying a little more in taxes.”
Second, immigration. He said the United States must make it easier for top foreign technologists to work here. Gates recalled when Microsoft once hired a number of people from India to work in this country. News reports there bemoaned the departure of so many smart people, while those here bemoaned the arrival of workers perceived as competing with domestic talent.
“It really can’t be bad news in both countries, and if we sent them back, was the U.S. going to say, ‘Good news — geniuses are gone?’ ” said Gates, criticizing groups who oppose high-tech employers’ recruitment of foreign nationals to work in the U.S.
Third, education. Gates reiterated a favorite theme of late, when he told the nation’s governors that America’s high schools have become “obsolete.” “The nature of global competition is that the work forces, particularly in China and India, are getting better educated,” he said.
In a world growing more competitive by the day, these are priorities that Memphis needs to address before it’s too late.
Also, Gates’ comments point up how America’s major CEO’s have now in truth become international CEO’s, as well-versed and concerned about competitive issues in India as in Indiana. Fred Smith, FedEx founder, is another business leader who can connect dots between education, trade policy and innovation that link events in Memphis with Shanghai, Krackow and Taipei.
More and more, it’s like chaos theory taken to an economic level. When a butterfly in Bangalore flaps its wings, it can very well cause an economic hurricane in Memphis.