Soft Market for Scientists

Update: After tweeting with Noah Smith, I realized this post came out all mangled. The point was not to bash foreign scientists, but to point out that the strongest advocates for H1-B visas as well as more PhDs (from anywhere) do not have Science or the scientific workforce’s interests at heart. They are trying to drive wages and working conditions down via a compliant (often because of immigration status) labor pool. My goal is to figure out how to maintain the welfare of scientists (because you can’t have Science without scientists). Obviously, bringing in smart people is a good thing (some guy named Einstein comes to mind…).

When it comes to the STEM workforce, there never seem to any Marxists around when you need them. We do, however, have Ed at Gin and Tacos (boldface mine):

“There are not enough Americans with the necessary skills” sounds to me like “There are not enough American workers willing to live five to an apartment and do this job for $22,000/year.”

It’s not as though American universities have a shortage of people in the STEM fields, and the quality of American education in these areas is supported by the fact that foreign – Russian, Indian, Chinese, etc. – students come to the US in droves to get college degrees. If people travel halfway around the world to go to Stanford and Harvard and Michigan and Georgia Tech, I find it really hard to believe that those universities produce Highly Skilled non-U.S. Citizen graduates but insufficiently skilled U.S. Citizen graduates. That makes…no sense. None.

Like Ed, I’m not beating the nativist soapbox, but, as I’ve mentioned once or twice, many of our scientific workforce policies (such as they are) do seem designed to lower wages and increase corporate payouts or allow the NIH to have a cheap workforce.

By the way, if scientists–not universities, scientists–could organize a quarter as well as defense contractors, this would be less of a problem. But Mendeley! Or something.

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4 Responses to Soft Market for Scientists

  1. Noah Smith says:

    So if you’re not beating the nativist soapbox – if all you care about is the workforce not being exploited – then how about we limit the number of qualified scientists in America, but we switch you with a scientist from India?

    It’s one-for-one; no brain drain involved. And no pushing down of American or Indian wages.

    Actually, better idea: We have you and the Indian guy *bid* for the right to live in the country of your choice. The winner of the auction pays the loser that amount.

    And everyone’s happy!


  2. Jerry Butters says:

    Noah’s response is why people hate economists.

  3. onkelbob says:

    Couple of things:
    The incoming class at the frau’s Ivy League BMCB grad school program has two students who would qualify for NIH training grants. Hmm… NIH wins all the way around with the current system. And yes the frau (T’d assoc prof) is foreign-born, as is most of the lab.
    People don’t hate economists, they distrust them; with good reason one might add.

  4. coloncancercommunity says:

    The problem here is that you create a vicious circle. As cheaper labor from abroad debases salaries, these high-technology fields turn into a race to the bottom. The result is fewer Americans in these fields. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a real shortage is created by a manufactured one. The resulting brain drain has major implications as younger people reject STEM career tracks for MBA’s.

    The problem goes beyond salaries, lifestyles and artificial gluts. This manipulation has broad implications for our ability to keep pace with the rest of the world in the 21st century.

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