Dear 45th President of the United States of America,
I write to highlight five key issues that warrant immediate attention following your January inauguration. These topics demand you and your advisors think more long term than we have in recent years. Solutions won’t be easy, but having won a grueling election to secure your office, you will be well positioned to champion them.
First, on immigration, we need to open our doors to the highly skilled. Too many brilliant non-citizens who want to contribute to our economy (including graduates of our world-leading universities) are not able to do so. Last year, 233,000 people applied for H-1B visas, a program for skilled foreigners capped at 85,000. With the U.S. unemployment rate hovering near 5 percent, now is an opportune time to raise the quota. Economists have found that these individuals create jobs for native-born Americans and that artificially restricting their entry hurts American growth.
Look no further than Silicon Valley, where immigrants founded over half of the much-discussed private companies now worth over $1 billion. Regardless of whether these “unicorns” are valued correctly (I’m skeptical), their founders embody the risk-taking ethos that has made America great. Without reform, we will continue to mismanage our most valuable resource: brainpower.
On top of that, we have a looming demographic crisis that immigration can help mitigate. We must not repeat Japan’s errors; the island country’s aging population has inflicted a stubborn economic malaise that Japanese leaders continue to fight. A sensible immigration policy here in the United States would sustain our working population and bolster our supply of highly skilled workers.
As for the economy, in addition to ensuring a robust workforce, it’s also time to rebuild our inadequate, crumbling infrastructure. Our roads are congested, our bridges desperately need repair, and our airports are old and inefficient.
Like many Bostonians, I regularly commute via Storrow Drive. Of the hundreds of structurally deficient bridges in Massachusetts alone, the Storrow Drive overpass is unique: It has been called the most dangerous bridge in America and has a government-designated sufficiency rating of zero.
The collapse of the Minneapolis I-35 bridge during rush hour in 2007 should have been a wake-up call. We need to update America’s infrastructure. Getting to and from work is stressful enough; one shouldn’t have to arrive in a cold sweat having played commuting roulette.
The costs of inaction are high. From the Flint water crisis to the D.C. metro shutdown, the tragedies and inconveniences brought on by our failure to invest are increasingly evident. Addressing this problem requires hundreds of billions of dollars. There is no better time to do so than now: Borrowing costs are low, and these investments will stimulate much-needed growth.
Beyond infrastructure, we must also confront our underfunded pensions. These ticking time bombs could generate mass social unrest here in the United States if left unaddressed. Unfunded liabilities tally into the trillions. California’s public pensions alone face an estimated $280 billion shortfall, and over half of American states have a pension deficit of over $10 billion. The culprits for these problems include dubious accounting practices, disappointing returns on investment and political neglect.
We need a nonfiction approach to managing pension liabilities. Just as President Obama appointed an executive compensation “czar,” you should appoint a pensions czar to help states address their unfunded liabilities.
On climate change, we must adopt a more comprehensive approach by considering the full environmental cost of seemingly eco-friendly technologies. We’ve made good progress with alternative energy, but we can and should do more. A technique called life-cycle assessment looks at the entire impact a product has on the environment from cradle to grave.
This methodology reveals how we often fail to fully consider the significant environmental footprint of manufacturing processes — even for “green” products like electric cars and solar panels. There are already some innovative developments on the horizon promising to address these issues. For example, Divergent, a company highlighted by Google as a “moonshot” innovator, is working to perfect a technique for 3D printing a lightweight car chassis.
Divergent’s founder Kevin Czinger believes his manufacturing process could dramatically reduce the environmental cost associated with automobile production and provide a template for other industries. Producing green technologies in an environmentally friendly manner should be a key part of any strategy to address climate change.
We also need to ensure our nation’s long-term resource security. The environment of cheap industrial and energy commodities we’re currently enjoying must not lull us into complacency. Historic cuts in oil investment may eventually lead to a price jump even if its timing is impossible to predict.
In the not-too-distant future, unconventional regions for energy extraction will become the focus of strategic jockeying, from outer space to the Arctic. Space cowboys from China to Silicon Valley are already eyeing the moon’s helium-3, a promising potential fuel for nuclear fusion that is lacking on Earth. Continued support for our space program is essential if we don’t want to cede our leadership. And we must not let any nation dominate the resource-rich Arctic.
Next January, when you finally settle into the Oval Office, you’ll be faced with the reality of these and many other issues — from tax reform to trade agreements, from health care to the Supreme Court, from Iran to Russia. As you lead our nation through the extreme uncertainty that typifies the world, I encourage you to look broadly, beyond the silos that derail effective deliberation and policy-making. Not doing so risks crashing our national ship on partisan rocks, while adopting multiple perspectives can ensure safe passage across increasingly choppy waters.
We need broad-minded, far-sighted leadership now more than ever. I wish you the best of luck — you’re probably going to need it.