The Bearers of the Cost of the Invitation

letusbeapartThis is a rather difficult post for me to write. Mostly, because it runs contrary to what I want to believe. It also challenges beliefs that I have had over the years and makes me wonder if I believed them because, well, I wanted to.

So the EPI wrote a paper demonstrating that the market for STEMs is over-saturated. This is being used to argue against the notion that we need to produce more STEM majors. That’s fair enough, to a point, but largely unmentioned in my circles (by anyone but The Usual Suspects) is another natural repercussion of this revelation. Namely, if we have enough science and technical people here, why are we immigrating so many from abroad? The argument for bringing more people in is predicated on one of two arguments: Either (1) the skills that one learns are so valuable that they are job-creators, or (2) we have a shortage. If #2 is not true, then we really don’t need to be bringing more in, do we, unless #1 is true. If #1 is true, then we should go full-throttle at encouraging people to go into STEM because there isn’t a natural limit to the usefulness of the field or if there is then we aren’t close to it.

Outside of strict IQ-based arguments, it seems contradictory to simultaneously against creating more STEM-types here while arguing for bringing more. I am either a STEM-booster or STEM-skeptic depending on the conversation. In this context, though, I am actually a skeptic. Just as I am skeptical of college being the answer at a societal level, I am also skeptical of STEM in this context. At some point, it gets watered down enough that it becomes the useless rush stamp. IQ (or scientific/mathematic aptitude, if you prefer) could tie that particular knot, if we don’t have a sufficiently large base of innate aptitude to produce job-creating Stemmers here but we can import them. This would, however, open up a host of other questions.

Jordan Weissman has my respect. Citing the EPI question, he points directly to the question that it seems others have been avoiding and expresses a degree of skepticism towards plans to expand H1-B visas. And he’s looking specifically at computer programmers, one of the areas I have personally most been sympathetic to visa expansion:

Companies are technically supposed to hire H1-B immigrants only if there are no Americans available to do the job, and then are required to pay them on par with U.S.-born professionals. Thanks to an array of legal loopholes in the way appropriate wages are calculated, though, it doesn’t necessarily work out that way.

Often, it comes down to a matter of age: Companies frequently save money by hiring a young, less experienced immigrant instead of an older American who would command a higher salary. And because the bureaucratic hurdles make it difficult for H1-B holders to switch jobs, guest workers have notorious difficulty bargaining for promotions or raises. They also can’t go off and start their own businesses, as they’d lose their visa. Unlike green card holders, they’re professionally chained in place.

The program has also fed the pernicious growth of IT outsourcing firms. These companies use H1-B visas to import low cost tech workers by the thousands, who they hire out to American corporations as substitutes for better-paid, in-house staff. The Boston Globe reports that just 4 of these companies — New Jersey-based Cognizant Technology Solutions along with India-based Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro, and Infosys — claimed 20 percent of the 134,780 H1-B visas that were approved in 2012.

I say Weissman has my respect, and it’s not actually solely because he is staking out a position that isn’t convenient for a writer for a publication like The Atlantic. It’s also because he had the honesty to, as he learned more about the situation, change his position after having written this piece a while back, which is something much more like what I would expect from The Atlantic and other Respectable Publications.

The thing is, it’s easy and socially convenient, to be a writer in non-conservative political magazines in diverse and liberal echelons of culture and stake out a position in favor of bringing in more talent from abroad. It’s easy because it’s not something a lot of people that matter to you are likely to speak up in protest about.

And to be honest, it’s easy for me to make these arguments. I don’t live in such an area, and I write for The League, but I nonetheless inhabit a cultural and economic orbit where I am not made particularly vulnerable by a potential influx of foreign workers competing with me for jobs. My wife’s job makes my career (or lack thereof) a lot less important. But more than that, the concerns Weissman outlines are not something I see, for the most part. At first thought, nearly every STEM person I know but one (who just recently graduated with a PhD in astrophysics, which is something of a niche) is doing well financially. Even those without college degrees! Back in Colosse, I know more people that are having trouble hiring (and yes, at reasonable rates with reasonable requirements) than I do people that just can’t find work.

But then I think again, and I think of the people in Deseret. Those people are struggling, with or without a degree. I am tempted to dismiss this because, well, they live in Deseret. And not in its capital and not in its tech corridor. What can you expect? But maybe, when I think a third time, that situation is more common than I think, and Colosse is less common than I think. And I wonder how much of what I believed is the comfortable generosity of the relatively invulnerable.

Because at fourth thought, I think back to when I was working at Mindstorm, a very large software company in the Pacific Northwest. I think of the fact that I worked in a department where maybe 20% of my coworkers were American. And this was a job that didn’t require a particularly high IQ. It required job-specific knowledge that could be taught. But why teach it when you can just bring it in? Says Weissman:

there are a few compelling arguments in favor of H1-B. First, and most simply, it’s reasonable to think that companies should be able to quickly and easily fish for talent abroad in the cases where it’s truly necessary.

Now, define “necessary”? Necessary in that they cannot be trained locally? Or necessary in that they are not already trained locally? Because I do know people who could work the lab at Mindstorm. But they would need training. Maybe they could go get the training themselves. But maybe they’re not needed because there’s already-trained talent from abroad. It’s enough to make me wonder how much local brainpower is being shuffled away by opportunities we’re giving to people from other countries?

In addition to a number of other factors, another reason that the benign experiences of those around me in STEM may be less than universal is that, though we graduated from college during the post-Clinton recession, we didn’t have to deal with the Great Recession. And now we really are looking at a lot of under-utilized human capital. According to the statistics I’ve seen, people who major in IT, computer science, and the like appear to be doing quite well even if they’re not finding jobs specifically in their field. But the story on the latest crop of graduates hasn’t been told. It’s tough times for many who find themselves unemployed or underemployed. How wise is it to give them more competition for jobs?

Now, with my last two paragraphs, here is where some people respond, “but why should we consider their fate more important than the fate of those we want to bring over?” The short answer is, quite frankly, because they’re Americans. Just as I would prefer my fellow citizens look after me before looking after a foreign national in some other country, I would just assume do the same. You can call this nativist, if you like. You can call it xenophobic. You can call it bigoted. I don’t wish people harm so much as I place the welfare of some over the welfare of others. To me, expecting otherwise would be to wonder why I value the fate of my adopted cousin over the fate of some stranger. If it’s a bigotry, it’s a bigotry I can live with. To be honest, whether we admit it or not, it’s sewn in to our national discourse with liberals and conservatives alike.

None of this goes very far into lending insight into whether or not bringing in a lot more people by way of H1-B visas actually hurts or helps my fellow countrymen. Everyone’s got an answer for that. Weissman explores reasons that it might help. And I look at inflated wages due to a shortage of local STEM talent as an economic inefficiency of sorts, if it is in fact due to a shortage. I also think that people in a lot of these white collar fields can, to some degree, afford to take a hit on salary for the common good. Mostly, though, I am sympathetic to the notion that increasing America’s high-intelligence brain trust is an overall good thing that will be good for our overall future. I have more confidence in our ability to immigrating that brain trust than I do expanding it significantly through education policy. These are the reasons I have stood where I have stood, against my own interests in a way.

However, a lot of these arguments do not apply to low-skill or semi-skill, low-education immigrants. Many of their children, or grandchildren, will indeed become a part of our national brain trust. I’ve worked with second and third-generation Mexican-Americans who have. A lot more of them, however, won’t. Last I saw, wages and degrees for grandchildren of immigrants from Mexico have lagged considerably from the population as a whole. In an age where it is generally agreed that the greatest contributors to the economy are those who will go to college and be white collar workers, we have a large number of immigrants where getting them there is going to be a real struggle.

The argument in favor of this group is that they’re “doing jobs Americans won’t do.” This is often true. When I was living in Deseret, there were wheat fields and a ketchup factory that was offering significant amounts of money and still couldn’t staff the fields. A lot of the work they do is unpleasant and, though obviously not the case in the Deseret fields, doesn’t pay that well. This explanation sometimes does leave me a bit short, though. Construction jobs did not used to be something that Americans wouldn’t do. Americans are doing the jobs in lots of places. Few immigrants live where I do, but construction occurs, floors get mopped, and so on. For a lot of the jobs they end up taking, it’s a matter of wages. As with the H1-B visas, the low wages are very much contributed to by the availability of immigrated labor.

Economists generally say, with low-skill labor and high, that the costs are paid for with the benefits. In the overall, at least. I am, repeatedly, assured that is the case. By people, I can’t help but notice, are not particularly vulnerable to the effects of the policies they advocate. And, at least some of the time, people that are more likely to benefit.

Now, I have a relatively comfortable existence. I can afford to say “If it’s good for the country, my wife can get paid less.” Or I can get paid less (if I were not a stay-at-home dad). I can afford the comfortable generosity. I can take the chance that the economists are right. I could, if I were so inclined, get high-and-mighty about those who disagree with me being racist. I can look at the big picture and say, “See? Good in the overall.” And get very impatient with the dead-enders and their baseless fears. Or, if their fears aren’t baseless, how they should take it in the chin for the greater good. My good, as it turns out. I truly wonder the extent to which this has influenced my historic views on immigration. I fear it greatly influences my preference for free trade.

It’s not hard to imagine myself, for a moment, if somewhere were to happen to Clancy. I would have a daughter and I’d need to find a job that would support both of us. I’d have been out of the workforce for too long. I could very easily be the kind of employee that employers look at and say “But we can get someone from India instead.” My sense of generosity and the greater good wanes. The sense that I should take it in the chin, or that I should bear the cost of the greater good starts to look downright unappealing. Faith that it even is in the national interest, rather than just being in their interest, becomes much more difficult. I am no longer at a point in my life where I could start at $30,000 a year and patiently try to work my way up. If I could find a job in the first place.

It’s not a large leap from there to truly be able to empathize with those that don’t even have what I have to fall back on, and feel an even greater insecurity. An even greater skepticism of the eggheads – so often coming from a culture that disregards mine – and that they have my best interest. And it’s not something I believe the unions could fix. Or even a stronger safety net. Even apart from the immigration question, I worry about self-supporting jobs in the coming years, so I clearly have my doubts that the road will rise to meet our population.

That conflicts with my natalist philosophy, though, and I have yet to mentally work that all out. But it also conflicts with a lot of my personal desires. I don’t like thinking that, perhaps, people who want to be American’s shouldn’t. I can’t say that we were the best of friends, but I liked my Indian coworkers at the large software company. I genuinely believe that their kids will make great Americans, if they choose to stay (as could they themselves, if they choose to become citizens). When I lived in the immigrant apartment complex back home, I thought most of my neighbors were pretty good people, working hard and creating little trouble. I want to be able to tell all of those people, and everyone who wants to come here, that they are welcome. That’s not possible, but I want at least to share the awesomeness of the American experience with as many people as we can make room for. I want that number to definitely include people like the people I’ve known, over the years.

I fear that, maybe, I want it too much. And that I am perhaps to dismissive of those that believe they are paying a price for it.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. I don’t think saying we should legislate for the benefit of Americans is in any way bigoted or xenophobic. Depending on the actual law it could be, but in principle it isn’t. There is a history of bigoted laws but that again doesn’t address whether any particular law is bigoted. American laws should be based on what we think is best for our country. That is sort of the point of democracy and people governing themselves.

    It seems like you are hitting at an odd confluence of ideas here. You are a proponent of localism but seem deeply averse to making “pro-american” for lack of a better word laws. Would anybody really say a local town making a law is by definition xenophobic or bigoted just because that law benefited the town. Depending on the law it could of course, but we would have to know about the law, but that is not a common criticism of localism..

    • Well, I don’t think anybody would argue that America shouldn’t do what’s best for Americans in the abstract. However, accusations do start to fly somewhat when you’re advocating doing so at someone else’s expense.

      I tend to grimace, for instance, at neighborhoods that consciously price out undesirables. And I can understand the moral imperative argument behind “open borders, come what may, because we’re all human” even though I disagree with it. I tend to draw the line at nationality, I guess, for better or worse.

      • Almost everything is done at someone else’s expense at some level. I’m for very liberal immigration but i think the “open borders” stuff sounds a bit to much like a simplistic, generic rule without wanting to think about the actual situation. I think we’re better off if we admit that someone else might get a shorter stick if we do X then going with the moral purity speeches. One of the best criticisms of liberals by libertarians is that there are unintended consequences to policies. One way to try to avoid the worst of the unintended consequences is to openly admit and search for who gets negatively affected by your chosen policy. Liberals don’t do this enough, Conservatives and Libertarians do it even less.

    • I think the issue is that there is a debate over what is best for Americans and this depends on ideology.

      No one would argue that it is wrong for a country especially a democratic republic to do what it is best for the citizens of that country. The debates begin over what that doing best is.

      The libertarian/neo-liberal argument seems to be that free trade and open boarders is what is best for Americans because it will produce cheaper stuff and more innovative stuff.

      The opposing school (I am not sure what to name them because they exist on the left and right) would argue that we need protectionism to give Americans well-paying jobs.

      • ND, I really primarily put that paragraph in there because, when I don’t, I do sometimes get moralistic arguments about how it’s wrong to place m0re value on the welfare of some people than other people because we’re all people. I just can’t imagine it working any other way.

        You’re right that a whole lot of the argument is over two competing beliefs of what actually is best for all parties. The belief that one or the other is best overall, though, tends to actually track with “what’s best for me?” and “what do I personally want?”

  2. Then there’s the ongoing series of articles that are basically, “If you’re in tech, you’d better have an alternate career scoped out by age X”. X has been steadily declining. The first such pieces that I saw said 55; a few years later it was down to 50; I believe I’ve seen one now that claimed 45 was the age where you became (largely) unhireable. “Unhireable” is too strong a word for it, but as you age, getting hired into a tech position does become much more a matter of knowing an individual who’s hiring and is able to bypass their HR department. HR is, for sound business reasons, going to be reluctant to let people over age 45 in the door.

    One reason is that, IIRC, 45 is the age where you automatically become a member of a “protected” group: older workers. Large companies have to jump through assorted hoops to document that they aren’t de facto discriminating against older employees. It’s easier to simply not interview them. Interesting quote from one of the econ professors when I started a PhD program at age 49: “You can write the best damned dissertation that the world has ever seen, but you will never get more than a courtesy interview for a tenure-track position. You’re simply too old.” A second is group health insurance. Particularly for small groups, the insurance companies will pay attention to the age of the workforce when making a quote, and at 45, you’re approaching the age when expensive degenerative conditions occur more frequently.

    • Particularly for small groups, the insurance companies will pay attention to the age of the workforce when making a quote, and at 45, you’re approaching the age when expensive degenerative conditions occur more frequently.

      Remember back during the PPACA debates when I said I thought employer-based health insurance was stupid and we ought not to embed it in our health care system? Yeah.

      • The only people who like employee based insurance are those who have good insurance and wouldn’t stand for any reform that put what they had at risk. Lots of people were for reform as long as they didn’t have to worry about losing the good deal they had. That is the high burden any reform must leap; change enough to make a difference to those who need it without scaring those who might benefit but don’t need it. The ACA, for all its faults, is as far as the current parties would go.

  3. Another reason why Americans with STEM training might have trouble finding jobs is that a lot of American companies, based on recent reports, hate training employees. They want people to know what their doing from the get go. Even if a person as an appropriate degree, its no indication that their going to know how to do the job. Law school and the bar exam gave me the right to practice law but my boss still needed to show me the ropes. Companies might prefer hiring pre-trained immigrants rather than Americans that might need training.

    • Oh, I think that’s a big part of it. It’s only made possible by immigration policy, though.

      • It would also be possible if there were a large enough population of qualified, trained people in circulation that employers could be high-handed about them. I see this through my wife with people trained in call center telemarketing skills — less technically demanding than tech jobs, to be sure, but there is training and education that happens, and employers poach workers who have been trained by other employers.

        • Very true, Burt. My “only made possible” comment was far too broad as it pertains to a number of other sectors. (It might be an overstatement with IT as even without H1-B’s it’s not like employers are excited about training. But I think at some point, someone would have to.

    • The problem with this potential argument is that alot of the high-skill immigration debate (and advocacy for that matter) have been focusing on providing additional visas for what are essentially the same thing as American graduates of STEM programs.

      We’re talking about graduate level F-1 students getting access either to a pool of specific immigrant visas tied to that purpose, or super high skilled workers who are out to create companies and getting EB-5s focused on startup creation.

      That is to say, I’m not sure if companies wanting to train is as much an issue as some people might thing.

  4. As someone who is both involved in the immigration debate on an advocacy level and as someone who stands to be personally impacted by some of this debate (mind you, not the STEM part) I’m going to have to mull over this a little bit before I can give a proper response.

  5. If we’re not going to have open borders, we’re going to discriminate against (and therefore, also discriminate *FOR*) certain groups. Which immigrants do we want (relatively) more of? Which do we want (relatively) fewer of?

    You don’t even have to get to the “and why is that?” part of the conversation before realizing how very ugly it’s about to get…

    • Jim Manzi basically said “We should approach immigration like a job interview.”

      I think there’s something to that. Most likely, that would result in favoring would-be immigrants from some nations over other nations, but that doesn’t really keep me up at night.

      • I like that idea, kinda, but it seems like it’d discriminate against non-English/non-Spanish speakers (with, perhaps, exceptions being made for some very small pockets in the US that are likely to have interviewers that speak a language representative of the largest nearby immigrant community).

        For the most part, I tend to suspect that if they were willing to get up off their butts and show up, they’re demonstrating sufficient gumption to make it past the job interview.

        • I am not someone that is freaking out over “OMG the Mexicans are never going to learn English and we’re going to have to press 1 for English FOREVER” at all. But…

          seems to me that if we’re going to filter, outside of marriage and relatively immediate family (and maybe eclipsing the latter), language is a pretty good place to start.

          • One of the funny unintended consequences of allowing a million languages in, is that everyone decides on English. If you start filtering against people based on their language, the Spanish-speakers, which make up the majority of immigrants, will still be the majority of immigrants.

            If you have two languages, you have two languages. If you have a million languages, you have one language.

    • So if we said everybody can come in unless you have been convicted of a murder or rape in the country you come from that that is ugly? How open are borders should be isn’t a yes or no question. We can have all sorts of levels of immigration and degrees of openness. Just having some filter isn’t ugly. What that filter is based on MIGHT be ugly but that depends on the filter.

      • Greg, please keep in mind that I’m not speaking as a “libertarian” but as a “guy who had to work with his freakin’ congressman’s office to get his freakin’ wife-to-be to this country”.

        (For the record: The Fiance Visa is considered the easiest and most hassle-free method of immigration.)

        At this point, the two ways to immigrate seem to be “walk here and hope for amnesty” or “know someone who knows someone”.

        That strikes me as a pretty ugly filter. Not as ugly as it could be, of course… but that’s hardly a defense of the status quo.

        • I do know about the ridiculous number of hoops to go through even for a fiancée visa. I don’t think the two part filter you mention is ugly as much as it is stupid. I’m for far more open borders but don’t think its ugly to have some limits. We would do better to have a much simpler system where people didn’t have to get married to get in “easily.” That would cut down on a few crappy marriages for one thing.

  6. As someone who works with a large number of H1Bs, I can state that training isn’t the issue. From where I sit, it’s cost. Make H1B as expensive — make companies provide health care and other benefits — and we won’t have to change immigration reform.

  7. The report suggests the STEM field is actually saturated. The so-called “shortage” isn’t reflected in higher market value. But because of the perception of a shortage, we allow a great many STEM immigrants in on H1B visas.

    In turn, there are issues with restricting immigration too sharply.

    It seems like there’s a fairly easy way to square this circle, at least partly. Don’t change the number of visas, but stop giving them disproportionately to immigrants in the STEM field. This report, ultimately, doesn’t really seem like an argument for or against immigration in general. It’s an argument against the claim that we have a chronic shortage of domestic STEM workers and hence that STEM-skilled immigrants should be particularly favored.

      • Well, healthcare specifically, based on the report. But it may be that the H1-B visa and targeting specific perceived shortages is the wrong way to go about deciding what sort of immigrants should be admitted in the first place.

        • Yeah, the thought of nurses had crossed my mind. Seems there are very few immigrant nurses, though. Lots of immigrant lab techs, even out here in Arapaho.

          Doctors have a huge bottleneck that immigration can’t help.

          • Many nurses immigrate from Philippines to work in the US. I’ve worked with quite a few.

          • Quite a few in Jersey. It’s common in the tri-state area (NJ,NY, Conn.) I think its probably less in AK, but i don’t have numbers to back that up. I’ve known, off the top of my head at least 2 or 3 nurses from the Philippines here in AK. I think its pretty common around the country to the level that money sent back to Phil. by nurses here is a significant positive for the Phil. On the other hand so much immigration had led to shortages in the Phil. It is harder for Doc’s to immigrate and work as Doc’s then for nurses to work as nurses.

          • Some data:

            Key info from abstract:
            “About 8 percent of U.S. registered nurses (RNs), numbering around 219,000, are estimated to be foreign educated. Eighty percent are from lower-income countries. The Philippines is the major source country, accounting for more than 30 percent of U.S. foreign-educated nurses. Nurse immigration to the United States has tripled since 1994, to close to 15,000 entrants annually. “

          • Thanks, Greg. That’s weird, because I’ve never met one. I figured that to mean they stick to the coasts, but if they’re in Alaska, I guess it’s just an anomaly.

  8. One of the biggest supporters of expanding the H1-B program is Mark Zuckerberg.

    We know someone in common: Cory Booker, who is mayor of Newark and probable US Senator in 2015. The next time I talk to Booker, I will tell him to his face that Zuckerberg is a shyster* and doesn’t have the best interests of the American worker in mind.

    The problem with limiting H1-B’s though is that a lot of this work can be outsourced overseas at the blink of an eye anyway. You can close the physical border, but closing the internet border is impossible.

    *this is not necessarily an anti-Semetic term.

    • The problem with limiting H1-B’s though is that a lot of this work can be outsourced overseas at the blink of an eye anyway.

      Yeah. It’s the same with virtually any pro-employee policy. You might get the employee more, but only until they can find a way to circumvent the employee.

    • Why use a heavily loaded term like “shyster” in the first place? You note it isn’t anti-Semitic, which i’d disagree with, but why use it?

      • Because I feel he is a shyster. It is what the French refer to as “le mot juste”.

        Wikipedia backs me up on the lack of anti-Semitism in the term, for whatever that is worth.

        • But if a word really might have a connotation you don’t want, then why use it? Wikipedia did note an anti-Semitic origin but said there was no proof. FWIW shyster has a strong anti-Semitic connotation, it has often been used as a derogatory term for jews. I’d be more than happy to hear what the other ….ummm…..Red Sea Pedestrians think about the term.

          • I presume whatever anti-Semitism it suggests comes from sounding like “Shylock”, making it analogous to “niggardly”. Perhaps more questionable, since sharp practice is part of the anti-semitic stereotype of Jews, while racists rarely if ever accuse blacks of being ungenerous.

          • So i ventured onto the Googletrons and found nothing determinative. I read several people who said they never heard it used as anti-Semitic and several others who always thought it was anti-Semitic. Interesting. I wonder if it has regional differences regarding how it is heard.

          • The stereotype of indulging in sharp business practices is shared by but not limited to Jews. Arabs, Nigerians, Turks, Asians of all stripes, Russians… Actually, when I consider how widespread that trope is, I tend to think it’s more a generalized xenophobia than any specific sort of racism.

          • Nigerians sharp? They’re always leaving millions of dollars just lying around.

          • Mike and Greginak,

            I feel like shyster is one of those Yiddish terms that Jews can get away with using against other Jews but non-Jews should probably avoid. Though how do we really know if Mr. Rice knows Cory Booker? I am skeptical of claims like this on the Internet.

          • I have not met Mr. Rice (though there’s a decent chance I will in the next year or so), but he has been a Hit Coffee reader and commenter for quite some time and running in circles where he would know Mr. Booker corresponds with who he has presented himself as being.

            Which is to say that for all I know he could be lying, but it would be a long lie and I personally believe him.

          • I didn’t mean to derail things, so let me issue some clarifications:

            1) I didn’t know know that greginak was a member of the tribe. However, I still believe that shyster isn’t anti-Semitic. It just seems that way since it sounds like shylock, which IS anti-Semitic.

            1a) Of course the term anti-Semitic doesn’t make sense, since Arabs, strictly speaking, are also Semitic. I concede that the term, in current usage, does not refer to Arabs.

            2) Cory Booker currently does not have a public stand on immigration since Newark doesn’t have its own immigration policy. The reason he and Zuckerberg have a relationship is because Zuckerberg has pledged $100 million to the Newark Public Schools.

            2a) However, Booker is ambitious, and is an undeclared candidate for the US Senate seat currently held by Frank Lautenberg. Once he declares, he will have to state a position on immigration, and I’m sure Zuckerberg will call in his favor.

            3) While both Zuckerberg and I both know Booker, I will concede that Zuckerberg knows him better. I have spoken to Booker twice. Both times the conversation lasted a few minutes, and we discussed Stanford football. Once was after before the Pac 12 Championship game, the second time was after the Rose Bowl. I’m sure he doesn’t know my name, but if you showed him my picture and reminded him what county I am from, he would remember talking to me.

            3a) Despite this connection to Booker, I will not be supporting him in the 2014 primary. I am currently supporting Rep Rush Holt. Booker is more charismatic, but Holt is smarter. Holt holds a PhD in physics and beat Watson in Jeopardy! Despite this, I would support Booker if he won the primary. This is more than I can say for Barbara Buono, who is our presumptive nominee for governor and has no chance against Christie.

          • My essential question was why use a term that is loaded since it clouds the point you are trying to make. I found reading up on different views of the term interesting since i always took it as anti-Semitic, so that was cool. Words are funny things. Since it is a bit of an odd term given the different beliefs of what is implies than that is just, well, interesting. I wasn’t implying ill motive on your part.

            FWIW I’m not much of a member of the tribe. My mom and her parents were but they weren’t observant. My wife was raised “that way” and her parents are reformed observant.

    • The main angle a lot of the high skilled immigration debate is focusing on is three fold:
      1. Shifting away from strange per country caps on H-1Bs and lifting the cap to make the program itself a bit more flexible.

      2. Making it easier for immigrant entrepreneurs to actually get into the country, especially if they have a decent backer for their ideas. The conditions attached to the EB-5 concept are IMO a bit too specific but it’s a substantial improvement on how these people are treated right now, and puts the US in a competitive position viz. other anglosphere countries.

      3. Graduate students who come to the US to study (and often have very high skills) and are paid by US institutions to do their education/training, but then have difficulty staying in the US. Another place where current policy is inefficient and works out to the US subsidizing other countries for high level STEM work. (And other grad student work, really.)

      Of the 3, I know the Zuckerbergs of the world are interested in 1, but the folks like Booker who might be interested more in the job creation aspects of immigration reform would do best to focus and refine points 2 and 3.

      • #2 interests me a great deal. While I have some reservations about #1 (which is mostly what I was looking at) and #3 (which the article I link to involves as well), I don’t see nearly as much potential downside to #2.

        With regard to #3, I think my questions would surround the fact that we apparently (allegedly) don’t need STEMmers at the moment, for the most part. I also thought it was the case that we didn’t really subsidize their time here (and, in fact, our schools made money on these students? This is an area where I will admit ignorance.)

        • 3. is a bit of a dicey issue because it also touches on the whole exploitability of graduate labor in general (which is a whole ‘nother can of worms and may present a systemic problem with how the US funds and provides the necessary labor for a large portion of its basic R&D…)

          One can look at the concept of training foreign graduate students in two ways.
          1. It’s a method of grabbing cheap but exceptional talent for a few years and then letting them go right when their salary/cost demands skyrocket (compare a phd candidate and/or a post-doc with that person in the private sector and the earnings differential is…substantial)

          2. It’s a time-intensive investment of resources into people who by their very nature cannot stay in the United States and thus is not only a waste of time, but also provides subsidized training for foreigners who can then be turned around and taken at below market value by other anglosphere countries to start companies, commercialize research, etc.

          1 and 2 aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, either and I’ll probably do a post about the weirdness of how the F-1 visa system works sometime in the next couple of weeks. (Per my email to the league list serv today)

  9. This was a bit tl;dr for me right at the moment; I’m going to remedy that shortly. But I wanted to record my initial reaction to your first few paragraphs before it (likely) actually gets addressed in the rest of the piece.

    It’s this: as a surface matter, I think it’s possible that you’re looking at two different questions as one. Namely, there is the question whether the mix of areas of study that American students undertake is the right one for the economy that awaits them (a quetion for which an answer in the affirmative may actually just be a practical impossibility), and then there is the question whether allowing companies to hire pretty much whomever they want worldwide to work in the the U.S. is good for our economy and our people, whatever the need or saturation level of “STEM” workers is in the country at the moment.

    I.e., we may have “enough” STEM workers, but that doesn’t settle the question of what is the best way to set policy that affects which ones end up doing which jobs. It may be that, absent a need for “more” such workers, it helps the U.S. – its economy, its people, its workers employed and unemployed alike – on net the most to, in response lower the limit on how many “new” STEM workers are allowed in via the H-1B program. But it may make sense, even in a “STEM-saturated” environment, not to do that. It may just always make sense to allow unrestricted immigration and work visas in certain skill categories – or in all categories. It’s certainly a complicated and value-dependent (and, of course position-dependent) question. It’s not clear to me that whether we “need more” STEM workers or “are saturated” with them gives us any insight, even at the first-blush intuitive level into it. Or, to caveat it slightly more than that, to whatever extent I share the intuition you have that that situation does give us that insight, I’m inclined to discount that intuition at nearly 100% because my main intuition is that I think the question of what’s best here is highly complicated, contingent (on questions of fact that could just as easily be not-X as X, where if they’re or not decides), and, as I said, value- and position(i.e. who and where are you and what are your vested interests)-dependent.

    But I’m going to read on to see if your discussion of the basic intuition you lay out at the top leads me to give it more weight than I do as a first reaction.

    • This was a bit tl;dr for me right at the moment; I’m going to remedy that shortly.

      No problem – it is pretty long.

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