Thursday, March 30, 2006

CW on Immigration: Part III

Immigration enthusiasts continue to peddle the lie that there is a nerd shortage in America. A variation of this argument was spewed forth by none other than that hero of nerds everywhere, George F. Will: "Conservatives should favor a policy of encouraging unlimited immigration by educated people with math, engineering, technology or science skills that America's education system is not sufficiently supplying."

Where to begin? Let’s start with the canard that the nation is producing technical incompetents, good for nothing better than a career as a pundit. The indispensable Ed Rubenstein reviewed the findings of sociologist Micheal Handel in the pages of VDARE debunking the myth of a high-tech labor shortage, or "skills gap." Handel "points to the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), a test administered to working-age adults in 14 advanced industrialized countries between 1994 and 1998. The U.S. ranked 10th place overall, but our poorest performers (5th percentile) were dead last and our best performers (95th percentile) were 3rd highest."

Here as elsewhere, immigration plays a pernicious role. When immigrants are excluded from the various samples, the difference between test score inequality in the United States and other countries disappears completely for women and shrinks by 55 percent for men.

Meanwhile, the number of American citizens pursuing degrees in engineering and science is actually on the rise. According to the National Science Foundation, U.S. citizen enrollment in science and engineering rose 5.8 percent, to 327,332 in 2003.

The NSF also found that 4.2 of science and engineering PhDs work outside their field. The primary reason is that wages are too low, a situation made all the worse by the H1-B visa program which brings "highly skilled" immigrants to the U.S. in the name of alleviating the mythical shortage of high-tech employees.

The corporate elite, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and ideologues at the Wall Street Journal, ceaselessly offer incense at the altar of the free market gods, and yet here they desire state intervention to keep wages low. According to conventional economic theory, if there is a shortage of workers in a field, wages should rise in order to attract people to that industry. Has that happened in the science and engineering sector? In 2004, the National Science Foundation published findings showing that wages had increased a relatively paltry 10% since 1995. As Rubenstein says, "For U.S. citizens, a doctorate in science or engineering causes a net lifetime LOSS in earnings" while an American science or engineering degree remains very attractive for foreigners relative to their options at home.

The solution, then, is to allow the magic of the marketplace to work. Mass immigration and special visa programs continue to exert downward pressure on wages for science and engineering graduates. As a result, many otherwise capable and talented natives are making the perfectly rational economic decision to bypass careers in math and science for other fields.

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