Afeyan on America


Noubar Afeyan is the CEO of Moderna. His thoughts about America, as expressed in an interview with Tyler Cowen, struck me. For context, Afeyan is an Armenian-Lebanese immigrant.

The idea of being an “American by choice” is really interesting.

COWEN: Last question. How do we attract more people like you to come to America?

AFEYAN: Be America.

COWEN: What does that mean?

AFEYAN: What I mean is recognize that the country is, itself, one giant experiment. It’s a melting pot. It has been a melting pot. It should continue to be a melting pot. A melting pot means that people come here to effectively make the country like them and make themselves like the country. That disillusion is not a source of negative.

I know there’s lots of people who want to create ethnic differences and all the differences among us, but there’s an element of this where I think people have come to this country fully intending to adapt and to contribute, but also to add of themselves to what is considered America today.

I think that that cooperative system between the precedented and the new is what accounts for unimaginable creativity, resilience, resourcefulness that this country has. I would protect that far greater than any monument or any other national treasure. Personally, it may seem romantic, but that’s what I think is attractive about this country. This country has that as a core advantage.

I think that’s a tough thing to pull off, let me tell you. A lot of other countries that come and go, and civilizations who don’t have that, who become a bit more homogeneous, more exclusionary lose their — I’ll say it — evolutionary advantage, their competitive advantage to adapt and to respond.

I think we clearly have a bunch of things to fix as it relates to the way the governance of the country is being executed. There’s a level of overmaturation of that and overstagnation of that that seems very, very troubling. I don’t know how that gets changed. It’s beyond my experience base, but I would say whatever happens should . . . I have not said should protect immigrants or immigration, but should protect this dynamism that comes from that.

I also would say that as a country, there’s so many people who have the experience of coming here, that that experience can also be transmitted to people who are born here, for whom the same mindset of being willing to imagine a better . . . If you look, every single person who comes to this country imagines a better future for themselves. That’s my belief. Maybe not every single person — 99 percent.

Imagine if all of us were also born imagining a better future for ourselves. Well, we should be, but we’ve got to work to get that. An immigrant who comes here understands that they’ve got to work to get that. They have to adapt. The problem is, if you’re born here, you may not actually think that you’ve got to work to get that. You might think you’re born into it.

This will be a funny thing to say, and I apologize to anybody that I offend. If we were all Americans by choice, we’d have a better America because Americans by choice, of which I’m one, actually have a stronger commitment to whatever it takes to make America be the place I chose to be, versus not thinking about that as a core responsibility.

I think there’s some things to be said about that, is to really make a new pact, a compact to say, “What’s the America that I really want to be contributing to?” If that’s more equal, less discriminating, different rules and laws, et cetera, then we should be open to talk about those things.