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GP 7 November 2007: Precious Imports: We Need Those Personas Non Grata

FDA Loosens Up.  The FDA always has cast a jaundiced eye on botanical drugs, much preferring the elixirs ginned up in the labs of the major pharmaceuticals.  That’s a problem: the big labs have not been that productive lately, and many new drugs have had to be pulled from the market, as heart-wrenching side effects are discovered. 
A scientist who has spent his life looking at the medicinal use of plants has even proposed that FDA tests not only include drug candidates and placebos, but also promising herbal alternatives to see what would happen. So far the Feds have not taken up Dr. Duke’s idea.

But the times change, and the government is getting a little more open-minded.  In “Mainstream Botanical Drugs?” we find that one firm has been given the green light to test a botanical for hepatitis.  Sooner or late, we will be putting more green drugs on the shelf.  Artemisia, from China, is already in wide use around the world as a counter to malaria.

Benign Tigers at Our Gates.  We’re having better luck looking at alien plant cures than we are with immigration.  We are not talking here about broadscale immigration policy.  The narrow question is how to let people visit or reside in the United States whom we need to make our economy flourish.  It’s rumored that tourism is depressed because the word is out around the world that Immigration and Homeland Security have simply made it too painful to come here.  We hope it is not so, since we need every centime foreigners can leave here to bolster our dollar, which is in trouble.

More importantly, graduate students and foreign knowledge workers are thinking twice about living here, again because our border bureaucrats are making a hash of things.  The stories make one wince.  At Newark some Indian graduate students were taunted by an immigration official: “What, don’t you have any schools in India?”  Just the other day an Englishman who is bringing capital into the United States was refused his green card, albeit temporarily, because his signature had flowed outside the borders on the application.

Social scientists, not relying on mere anecdotes, have been studying the problem broadly, and are concluding that our policies cumulatively are creating a reverse brain drain.  A team of faculty and students at Duke led by businessman Vivek Wadhwa have published several papers, including “Intellectual Property, The Immigration Backlog, and a Reverse Brain-Drain,” August 2007.  There is a possibility we are turning away the tigers who can power our economy.  Historically, our immigrants have propelled our economy to new heights.

The Danger of Playing It SafeWilliam Baumol, a very bright light in the world of economics, early on worried that the cumbersome safeguards that ensued from the 9/11 disaster would have worse consequences for us than the acts they were designed to prevent.  We’re not sure of that.

But it is clear that the filters are not very well designed.  The FDA’s drug testing procedures have not kept drugs with major side effects off the market, but they have sifted out botanicals and other treatments that might be relatively safe and effective.  Likewise, Homeland Security and others are keeping out considerable numbers of people that could help our purse and intellectual capital, but they have a spotty record in detecting the troublemakers in our midst.  A rethink is in order, because we often are not guarding the right gates.

Precious Spices.  Once upon a time the Western Hemisphere feasted on the spices of the East.  Cinnamon, saffron, pepper, and many other rarities filled the hold of ships with our most valuable cargos.  In fact, SpiceLines, our companion website, is dedicated to the idea that spices are regaining currency as the sine qua non of high cuisine.  In this day, we think of oil as our vital import.  But it is possible that knowledgeable people and botanic plants may have more to do with our long-term health and wealth.

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