Nativism and the New Innovation Landscape

The U.K.’s vote to leave the EU and America’s election of Donald Trump have both been credited, in part, to a rising tide of nativism, anti-immigrant fervor, and the belief that excluding people will boost the economy. Many native-born voters believe foreigners will (or have) hurt them economically. And with manufacturing on the decline in the US, their pain, though largely unfounded, can’t be ignored. But exclusion won’t bring back blue-collar jobs in an increasingly innovation-centric economy. The emergence of nativist sentiment across the so much of the globe (including Germany’s right-wingAfD party, French politician Marine Le Pen and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) is ultimately going to backfire.

Indeed, the United States’ more welcoming, pre-Trump immigration policies are why Silicon Valley is in California and not elsewhere. A central reason the U.S. has been so successful, so entrepreneurial, is because there are so many immigrants here, bringing not only new perspectives but the drive to create.  And that is precisely how a country should act, actively seeking out the smartest people, the most entrepreneurial people, the most creative people. If a government doesn’t understand that, we have a big problem.

The growing propensity for nativism stifles innovation, leading to new opportunities for countries. Not that I begrudge then that. Far from it. The point is that isolation breeds stagnation and countries need to be aware of this. Countries will, in the near future, compete for the best talent the way companies do today. Smaller countries such as Estonia and Portugal could easily disrupt the large ones that turn away newcomers. Ireland has already been extremely successful in this regard.

Small countries don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain. Returning for example to Portugal, the nation has largely been dependent on tourism for ages. But increasingly they see that technology is a springboard to economic development. Boarders and nationality mean nothing, and attracting talent is a matter of providing an environment that encourages innovation, the sharing of ideas, and the inclusion of a wide range of perspectives. They have beautiful, inviting cities, nice beaches where people can work, and a welcoming culture, so why not create a hub there for startups? Why not position Portugal (or Argentina, or Costa Rica, or anywhere else for that matter) as an innovation hub?

Ultimately, as nativism takes hold, the traditional centers of innovation run the risk of seeing much of draw eroded. They will by no means crumble into ruin, but they will lose out on economic growth as their status as welcoming environments wanes.

 

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