The fallacy in Trump’s thinking is that displaced, uneducated industrial workers can fill the vacuum created by packing off expatriate knowledge workers.
While carping Left, liberals are quick to compare Donald Trump with Narendra Modi, on the H-1B visa issue, Trump’s real intellectual peer is Rahul Gandhi. When Rahul Gandhi takes a jab at Modi’s “Fake in India programme”, he is as off the mark as Trump wanting to “bring back coal jobs” to “make America great again”.
In a digital world, talent is the new hardware, and data, not coal, is the fuel. Human judgement, knowledgeable insight and creativity are the raw materials, which will give nations their competitive advantage in the future.
No wonder, netizens have spotted books on AI on Xi Jinping’s bookshelf. Here, Modi with his plan to create a trillion dollar digital economy (as ThePrint reported) is ahead of the curve over both Trump and Rahul. But that is jumping the gun.
In a world where all geopolitical issues – foreign policy, economics et al – are decided on Twitter, another eminent NRI intellectual of a Washington-based think tank tweeted a RaGa-esque question – why has Modi not created 750,000 jobs? The implication seems to be, had Modi been able to attract more brick and mortar investments to India in the last three years, there would be more jobs for these returning Indians.
Even if one were to accept that argument conditionally, the big factories would not have absorbed the potential H-1B repatriate software engineers. Nor would MNREGA have been a solution for them, as Rahul Gandhi may suggest.
Conversely, the fallacy in Trump’s thinking is that displaced, uneducated industrial workers can fill the vacuum in STEM jobs that will be created by packing off expatriate knowledge workers from the US. Reskilling, as we know, is easier said than done. If India is accused of not investing in education over the years, the US has done even worse. So, it is unlikely that even the next generation of Americans will be able to seamlessly slide into the space created by reverse migration of foreigners on US soil.
The next wave belongs without doubt to artificial intelligence, creativity and design. That is why Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others are investing heavily in AI.
China has been preparing for this shift by investing in education. While it may have stolen a march on talent, it lacks credibility and trust for handling “Big Data” – the most critical resource for AI, as it continues to stifle human expression on the internet. A senior executive of a creative major told me how they were forced to shut their design shop in China for fear of hacking and piracy.
India, with its long track record in ITES, scores high on both trust and talent. In spite of where Trump lands on this new whim, India is poised to leapfrog towards a digital and AI future with its long track record in ITES scores and democratic expression.
Not missing a chance to bash Modi, another US based Indian academic has written the H-1B Indian worker in Trump’s USA is like the Muslims in Modi’s India. While the comparison is at best odious, it is disingenuous to turn an existential issue into a debate about nationalism.
For a moment being the Devil’s – nay Trump’s – advocate, what is the likely composition of these 750,000 H-1B visa holders on the skills map? One knows of many young engineers from Bengaluru who have moved to the US and Canada simply by being on the immigration conveyor belt and settling for jobs much below their calibre and not necessarily at a pay scale higher than what they would have earned back home in India. Trump’s threat may actually be a moment of truth for these young men and women to revisit their options.
Irrespective of one’s political leanings, it would be naïve to wish away the trend towards nationalism sweeping the world. But, if nationalism can be channelled to take advantage of the opportunity that would arise out of this global shift and position India for the next wave on the digital frontier, this could indeed be the disruption that was required to reverse the tide towards India.
Sandip Ghose is a marketing executive and popular blogger on current affairs. He is on Twitter @SandipGhose