Osama Has Already Won
While people argue endlessly as to how much damage Ashcroft’s antiterrorism campaign has inflicted on American civil liberties, a potentially more important consequence of our overreaction is largely undiscussed, at least outside of the science journals. Since 9/11 and in large part because of new immigration and visa policies, the United States has become a less attractive place for foreigners to go to school. The bright young engineers and scientists who used to travel here to grad school are more like to stay home or train in other countries rather than run the gauntlet of paranoid bureaucrats. [Reference] Since our economy has been dependent on draining talent from the rest of the world for a very long time, this change does not augur well for our continued prosperity, especially since it reinforces other developments that are gradually making the United States a less attractive destination.
Very few people pointed out at the time that Spain was hurting itself by expelling the Jews or dared to inform Louis XIV that the Huguenots made France rich. It’s about time somebody told somebody who matter in these parts that discouraging productive people from moving to the country is a very similar stupidity. At least the Catholic Kings were motivated by religious scruple and righteous bigotry. The explanation of our behavior—you can hardly call it a reason—is even less attractive. We just plain got scared all out of proportion to the realistic threat.