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A Better Bailout for the U.S.: Open Doors

Whenever the economy falters, one of the first impulses—in the U.S. and abroad—is to try to protect jobs and industries at home by keeping out products and people from other countries. Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman argues that such protectionism is precisely the wrong strategy: Immigrant brainpower, he says, is critical to America's success.

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On a recent trip to Bangalore, India, I met with several businesspeople whose message to the United States is:

"Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn't through protectionism or fearing free trade.

"No, the formula was very simple: Build this really flexible, really open economy, pour into it the most diverse, smart, and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat."

While I think President Obama has been doing his best to keep the worst protectionist impulses in Congress out of his stimulus plan, the U.S. Senate unfortunately voted in February to restrict banks and other financial institutions that receive taxpayer bailout money from hiring high-skilled immigrants on temporary work permits known as H-1B visas.

Bad signal. When attracting the first-round intellectual draft choices from around the world is the most important competitive advantage we can have, why would we add barriers against such brainpower?

"If you do this, it will be one of the best things for India and one of the worst for Americans [because] Indians will be forced to innovate at home," says Subhash B. Dhar, of Infosys, the Indian technology company that sends Indian workers to the U.S.

If there is one thing we know for certain about the 1930s, it's this: Protectionism did not cause the Great Depression, but it sure helped make it "Great." From 1929 to 1934, world trade plunged by more than 60 percent—and we were all worse off.

We live in a technological age where every study shows that the more knowledge you have as a worker, and the more knowledge workers you have as an economy, the more jobs you'll create and the faster incomes will rise.

We don't want to come out of this crisis with just a mountain of debt. We have to come out of it with a new Intel, Google, Microsoft, and Apple.

A recent essay in Newsweek began: "Could Silicon Valley become another Detroit?"

Well, yes, it could. When the best brains in the world are on sale, you don't shut them out. You open your doors wider.

We need to attack this financial crisis with green cards, not just greenbacks, and with start-ups, not just bailouts. One Detroit is enough.