April 12, 2013, 4:07 PM — For some reason, Silicon Valley's titans are encouraging Mark Zuckerberg to lead the charge on immigration visas. It's an odd choice.
Zuckerberg's creation, Facebook, contributes nothing to America's bottom line, and it has no hope of doing so.
What does Facebook make, exactly? It's a social network. If Facebook disappeared tomorrow, the world will quickly move on to something else. It will not be missed.
Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, wrote a provocative paper last year about genuine innovations, and Facebook did not get a good mention.
Gordon is interested in the types of innovations that change the world by extending life, raising productivity, and allowing for many other new things.
In history, these innovations range from the steam engine to indoor plumbing, the combustion engine, computers and the Internet.
Of Facebook, Gordon offers this exercise where people are asked to choose between two options: You can keep everything invented in the past decade, and that includes Facebook, Twitter and the iPad, or as the second option, "you have to give up running water and indoor toilets." Which option will you choose? The usual reaction, Gordon notes in his paper, is laughter because the choice is so obvious.
If Zuckerberg testifies in Congress and shows up at a press conference to talk about immigration, he may quickly become one of tech's most visible and recognized faces on immigration issues. The previous voice, Bill Gates, remains active but today is more behind the scenes. Lawmakers like star power on their panels, and Zuckerberg clearly has that.
But to borrow from the TV show Seinfeld, Facebook is "a show about nothing," and that is why Zuckerberg may be the perfect choice to lead the charge on immigration on Capitol Hill.
Here are three reasons why.
One: Facebook is about reducing ideas to their lowest common denominator
Even though most H-1B workers brought into the U.S. are starting at entry level, and work for IT services companies that offshore jobs, they are continually called "the best and the brightest." That is how professional messaging works. The messaging must be clear, easily digestible, and seemingly self-evident even when it is not. This is perfect for Facebook.
Zuckerberg's new group, FWD.us, keeps the high-tech immigration messaging consistent. It wants immigration reform that "allows us to hire the best of the best." This is probably no different than the messaging around hiring "best and the brightest."
What FWD.us plans to do is to reduce this message from a few words to a small mountain of Facebook "likes," and set them next to a pile of money. The idea is to put fear into wavering lawmakers with as much brute force as possible.
Two: Zuckerberg faces no opposition