Friday, April 5, 2013

Cited at Science Careers


The treatment of our forthcoming report looks good. Some economics-minded people might be interested in this line:
"Since then, however, a large and continuing flow of foreign IT workers on temporary visas has caused drastic change. "The IT industry [now] appears to be functioning with two distinct market patterns: a domestic supply (of workers and students) that responds to wage signals (and other aspects of working conditions such as future career prospects) and a guestworker supply that appears to be available independent of standard wage and employment signals, plentiful even when wages decline or are stagnant. … [T]he flow of guestworkers from low-wage countries appear[s] to provide firms access to labor … in plentiful supply at wages … too low to induce increased supply from the domestic workforce.""
The author must have had an old draft. I made sure the line "appears to be available independent of standard wage and employment signals" was changed to clarify that they are responding to wage signals, but because of the wage differential between the United States and abroad there is a steady supply regardless of wage trends in IT here.

I think it's an interesting lesson that different people talk about things in different ways. I am writing with a sociologist and a demographer and it's going to be read by policy analysts, natural scientists, and economists. Everyone has a slightly different perspective on it and is going to take a slightly different story away. People with an economics background know why that line bothered me initially.

I'm very excited for this report to come out. Different people are going to take it different ways. Some people will take it as an anti-immigration argument (I don't think it has to be at all but I can see what people who are against immigration would like about it). I'm trying to prepare myself to take it all in stride.

My view is this (shouldn't be new to readers): I am pro-immigration, but I think people have legitimate interests in differentiating between immigrants and guestworkers. In other words, I want lots of immigrants and tend to leave it to democracy to decide how many guestworkers we have (I'd be pretty generous myself). I think our current guestworker programs are badly structured, and that they ought to give guestworkers more mobility between employers (part of this has to do with the interaction of employer sponsored green cards and guestworker visas) and not distinguish between different types of workers (low skill, high skill, etc.).


  1. Daniel,

    Several times I commented that the visa program was doing exactly what is described above.

    [T]he flow of guestworkers from low-wage countries appear[s] to provide firms access to labor … in plentiful supply at wages … too low to induce increased supply from the domestic workforce.

    IOW, STEM is a horrible path for an American student.

    1. 1. Right, that's not really the sentence that concerned me.
      2. I think the conclusion you draw from that needs a whole lot of caveats, and
      3. We didn't really explore the question of whether guestworkers depressed domestic wages - keep that in mind. I can't imagine it didn't to some extent, of course. But whatever the desirability of that path we can't say simply that its the result of guestworker programs. These were around when wages were exhibiting strong growth too.

  2. But just what are all those new STEM-related immigrants going to do? I mean, if science and engineering were actually of great value for this nation, you'd think -- I'd think anyhow -- that the federal government would be embarked on grandiose scientific and engineering programs -- space colonization, seabed mining, weather and climate control schemes, building new facilities for particle physicists, overhauling the air traffic control system, applying nanotech and genetic engineering to medicine, developing safer nuclear power and fusion power generation, perfecting new materials, etc.

    And not a one of these ideas interests people actually in government, or people who happen to be interested in government (bloggers!) or people who give advice to governments. Instead we seem to be waiting on private industry to build whatever shiny toys might amuse us in the future and that's enough of a plan. And industry is showing what it wants to do by amassing great piles of money and wasting not a penny of it on useless "investment."

    So what are we to do with the hundred thousand or so new STEM workings we might gain each year? Steer them to Macdonalds? Sit them down at call centers? Make them tour guides? Give them as body servants to financiers and economists? What?

    What this whole sad notion sounds like is magic. The people running this country don't know how to build a brighter future, but they've latched on to the idea that scientists and engineers are an ingredient, so America is going to build a stockpile of bodies and hope that bright new ideas and gadgets and world transforming programs will just suddenly appear, all by themselves. Let me predict now, this ain't gonna work.

    1. Yep, Mike! And you know my shtick by now - policymakers need to be worrying about the demand side, not the supply side of this market.

      What they will do - in the case of the IT market that we consider - is lower costs in that sector. That's not such a bad thing on its own, of course. What I can't fathom is why we are designing immigration policy around that goal. It seems to me immigration policy ought to have other goals.

      Well said in your concluding paragraph.


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