Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Protectionist, you either are, or you ain't... (video)

In his yesterday's National Review Online column "What STEM Shortage?", the Center for Immigration Studies' Steven Camarota shares his concerns over allowing foreigners with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experience into the U.S. labor market.

According to Camarota, he, and others, have extensively studied the claim made by "American business and the political elite" that the supply of STEM workers in the U.S. is not sufficient to meet the demand. Their findings tell us that it's all a bunch of hooey.

Here's a slice:
In looking at the latest government data available, my co-author and I found the following: In 2012, there were more than twice as many people with STEM degrees (immigrants and native-born) as there were STEM jobs — 5.3 million STEM jobs vs. 12.1 million people with STEM degrees. Only one-third of natives who have a STEM degree and have a job work in a STEM occupation. There are 1.5 million native-born Americans with engineering degrees not working as engineers, as well as half a million with technology degrees, 400,000 with math degrees, and 2.6 million with science degrees working outside their field. In addition, there are 1.2 million natives with STEM degrees who are not working.

Here's another:
Wage trends are one of the best measures of labor demand. If STEM workers were in short supply, wages would be increasing rapidly. But wage data from multiple sources show little growth over the last 12 years. We found that real hourly wages (adjusted for inflation) grew on average just 0.7 percent a year from 2000 to 2012 for STEM workers, and annual wages grew even less — 0.4 percent a year. Wage growth is very modest for almost every category of STEM worker as well.

So if there is a superabundance of native and immigrant STEM workers and little wage growth, and STEM immigration already exceeds the absorption capacity of the STEM labor market, why are there calls to allow in even more? The answer, put simply, is greed and politics.

One more:
Another reason that the “we need more STEM workers” argument is taken as gospel is that it is endorsed by many of America’s most prominent billionaire entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Their vested interest in holding wages down and improving their bargaining power vis-à-vis their workers goes unmentioned by the media that tend to just transcribe their press releases on the subject.

Okay, for starters, I'm going to---for the sake of this essay---assume that team Camarota and the other organizations he names in his article have their numbers right. I have absolutely no desire to spend even a second in refutation. The reason I'll not waste a second challenging their claim is because I honestly couldn't care less. What I do care deeply about, however, is freedom. 

Regular readers know that I aggressively oppose protectionism. And while you may agree with Camarota when it comes to importing labor, I want you to understand that keeping willing workers outside our border is every bit as pernicious as would be the keeping out of Samsungs and Toyotas.

He asserts that allowing in STEM-degreed foreign workers results in lower wages for equally-educated Americans (that is, lower labor costs for U.S. employers). I must therefore assume that, understanding the law of supply and demand as he does, Camarota would agree that the importing of foreign-made electronics and automobiles results in lower prices for American consumers. Given his grasp of basic economics---and his damning of cronyism---surely he would rail at the thought of "American business and the political elite" colluding to limit the American consumer's access to affordable goods.

Yet he entirely loses sight of---or chooses to ignore---the fact that a reduction in labor costs resulting from immigration can make American enterprises more productive and more globally competitive. Which of course results in lower-priced, higher-quality, and a greater variety of, goods and services for the American, and the non-American (I assume Mr. Camarota has no problem with American companies competing internationally), consumer.

As I suggested earlier, you might sympathize with Camarota and company, yet you might see yourself as a free-market/free-trade advocate. The thing is, protectionism is multidimensional, and protectionist tendencies can be most subtle. Let the above test your resolve (assuming you're indeed free-market minded): If you can recognize, and denounce, the brand of protectionism Camarota and his colleagues promote, you can continue to call yourself a free-market advocate. If not, you can't.

You see, in my view, being a little bit protectionist is like saying you're a little bit pregnant, it doesn't fly---you either are, or you ain't...  

Here's Bryan Caplan on "anti-foreign bias" (HT Don Boudreaux):

1 comment:

  1. […] Inspired by my colleague Bryan Caplan, Marty Mazorra ponders protectionism. […]