2020-09-17 — theatlantic.com
The visa debacle was only the latest of many ominous signs for the United States, long the world's primary incubator of new technologies, new drugs, new therapies, and new business models. The coronavirus pandemic and the administration's botched response to it are damaging the engine of American innovation in three major ways: The flow of talented people from overseas is slowing; the university hubs that produce basic research and development are in financial turmoil; and the circulation of people and ideas in high-productivity industrial clusters, such as Silicon Valley, has been impeded.
The physical isolation of employees will hamper the development of groundbreaking ideas within individual firms. It could also decrease the number of spillover opportunities that can arise in new firms. The proverbial process in which two engineers meet in the office, start tossing around product ideas in their downtime, consult with a local venture capitalist to get advice, and leave to found a start-up will be severely diminished if all of these connections are mediated via Zoom. Videoconferencing is useful in maintaining existing relationships but a poor substitute for chance meetings with new colleagues. Even if remote work is beneficial on balance for a given tech company, it could be a net negative for the company's larger industrial cluster and for the country.
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