H1-B Visas

VisaDean Baker wrote a very good (short) article this morning about the call for more highly educated workers. They are called STEM workers, which stands for workers who have skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. What Republicans are pushing for are more H1-B visas. And this is because companies claim they just can’t find workers with the right skills here in America. This is bullshit, to say the least. As with all such claims, the issue is that these companies don’t want to pay the prices that Americans with these skills require.

Baker notes the interesting fact that those who have opened the floodgates on foreign manufacturing work and who would open the floodgates on foreign STEM workers, somehow are never for even a trickle of foreign medical professionals.

Pay for doctors in the United States averages more than $250,000 a year, roughly twice the pay of physicians in Europe. If immigration could bring the pay of U.S. doctors down by an average of $100,000 it would save the country close to $100 billion annually on its health care bill and lead to hundreds of thousands of new jobs in other areas.

I figure there are two issues. First, there is just the fact that politicians and CEOs have a lot of friends who are doctors and they’re great guys; in fact, they’re probably not paid enough! Second, the insurance industry makes it so no one has a compelling interest to keep doctor salaries down. Regardless, no one seems to care that we pay twice the going rate for doctors.

Having worked with a lot of programmers who were here on H1-B visas, I can tell you a few things. First, it isn’t immigration. These guys are brought over here wedded to a particular company. The only “good” it does is for that one company. Second, the workers get very little money. At least half of what the company pays goes to the companies that provide the workers. Third, the workers aren’t that good. When they are getting ready for a new job, they do a lot of cramming to look good at the interview. But hey: they’ll have the exact skills the HR department requires!

And this gets to the very heart of hiring in the high tech world. Those who do the hiring don’t know much about the work. They are too focused on specific skills rather than hiring, say, proven programmers who can code in whatever new language the company is currently hot for. The truth is that regardless of field—computer science or rocket science—what companies need are smart and capable workers. And they must know this. But it is easier to hunt around for cheap employees who have some rigid set of skills. In the end, the whole H1-B visa process is just another example of companies gaming the political system rather than honestly competing in something resembling a free market.

Don’t Get Ready for a Third Party

Elephant and DonkeyHave you heard about the end of the two party political system in the United States? Let me lay it on you. In 2016, Rand Paul will run for the Republican presidential nomination. He won’t win, because, you know, he’s Rand Paul. Plus, all the establishment Republicans will be funneling cash and expertise to Marco Rubio. In case you didn’t know, Marco Rubio is not only the Republican Savior™, he’s got great policy ideas like, uh, “something like the Dream Act but not as good” and “grow the economy.” And did I mention that he is a Cuban American, which technically makes him a Latino even if he is even whiter than Mitt Romney? So Rand Paul loses.

But wait! There is a cry from the Tea Party grassish rootish, “Let Rand Paul run!” And then we are off: Rand Paul runs as a third party candidate and wins because all the college kids will vote for him because just like the pretend libertarian that he is, Rand Paul is kind of sort of for maybe decriminalizing cannabis. And suddenly, we have three political parties: Democratic, Republican, and Tea.[1] This would not just be bad for the Republicans. Democrats ought to be afraid too!

Or so say a bunch of people interviewed by Ron Fournier at the National Journal in an article titled, Republican Leaders Worry Their Party Could Divide in Two. But this is what you need to know about it: it is total rubbish.

Let’s start with the Tea Party. These are people who love liberty rhetoric, but they hate the actual policy. Once Rand Paul is on the national stage, they will see that he doesn’t want to get the fags. And perhaps as important, he doesn’t want to get Iran or any other country with a similarly foreign sounding name. And don’t forget: he doesn’t think that wacky weed is the greatest threat to western civilization since Stalin invented frisbee golf. Everything that might make Paul inviting to college students will make him replant to the Tea Party. Remember: the Tea Party talks freedom but it votes illegal abortion.

But there is another reason that Rand Paul will not run as a third party candidate. Let’s call it the heroin exception. One thing that libertarians love is pointing out that they want to make heroin legal. It is a great way to say, “Look at me! I’m intellectually consistent!” (Libertarians, despite what they think, are never intellectually consistent.) But Rand Paul doesn’t do this. He is only for cannabis legalization, and even on that issue his endorsement is hardly full throated. Rand Paul is a man who makes political calculations. He will calculate that he can’t win as a third party candidate and that losing third party candidates never go on to anything better (unless you consider becoming a punchline better and in Paul’s case that may be true). So he won’t run.

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be some other crazy person who tries to break the Republican Party in two. However, I don’t see anyone who is likely to do a very good job of it. Anyone popular enough is better off staying in the party. Anyone unpopular enough to want to do it won’t cause that much damage. But let’s imagine for a moment that it somehow did happen. Imagine that Rand Paul did run as a third party candidate? What would that look like?

Hilary Clinton by 10 percentage points!

It is ridiculous to think that a Tea Party offshoot from the Republican Party would hurt the Democratic Party anywhere near as much. The fact that “thoughtful” Republicans believes this shows just how delusional they are. But they aren’t wrong that there is a split in their party. But this goes back more than 30 years. And the party has always managed to stay together. The truth is that the economic conservatives don’t care about the Neanderthal policies of the social conservatives, because when you’re rich, the law doesn’t really matter. And the social conservatives don’t care about the vile policies of the economic conservatives, because when the second coming of Jesus is going to happen any day now, who cares about money?

So don’t expect a break-up of the Republican Party any time soon. Instead look for a lot of discussions about branding and intra-party fighting that will allow the Republicans to continue on with their failed and unpopular policies. Otherwise: see you in 2014!

[1] I imagine the Tea Party later splitting into the Earl Grey and English Breakfast parties.

Play Valentine’s Day Well

Valentine's Day

I have some advice for the men out there, but I think it would be good for the women to read on as well.

When I am in love (which I now think of as a kind of virus that should be avoided at all cost), I am very much into buying random little lover’s gifts. And I am especially fond of flowers. In fact, I am so fond of them that at one time I had an intuitive idea of the yearly cycle of flower prices. And since I have never been rich, I quickly found that it is always a bad idea to buy flowers around Valentine’s and Mother’s Days.

This is not just a matter of supply and demand. It is kind of like the diamond market that is manipulated to make diamonds expensive even though a truly free market would show them to be extremely cheap. (Folks: rubies are great stones! Blue topaz are great stones and they’re cheap! Diamonds are overpriced and boring!) Don’t be stupid; don’t be boring; don’t buy flowers around Valentine’s day!

Come on men: nothing says “I’m trying not to piss you off” on Valentine’s Day like a bunch of roses! Trust me, a bunch of carnations of May 6th can go a long way. A single orchid on the anniversary of your second date will totally get you laid. And a bunch of wild flowers stolen from a neighbor’s yard when your wife seems down can double the length of your marriage. (But if your marriage is going to fail anyway, try to keep it under 5 years; it gets a lot more legally complicated after that.) On Valentine’s day, you need to try not to be such a chump.

You see, buying flowers on Valentine’s Day is the worst of both worlds. It costs a lot of money and you don’t get much credit. On the other hand, it is a mistake to be forever surprising your wife with flowers, jewelry, and little notes that say, “You’re my special someone!” You do this too much and your wife will complain when you take her to Jamaica for Valentine’s Day because Saint Thomas is so much nicer in February. Everything in moderation. One surprise per month is probably optimal.

Now I know what you’re thinking (especially if you’re a woman), “This guy thinks relationships are just a game!” That’s not true at all. I know relationships are just a game! And you can play it well or you can play it badly. Your wife prefers that you play it well. (Just ask her!)

Ben Ginsberg No Fan of Democracy

Ben GinsbergRick Hasen over at Election Law Blog asks, Will the Bauer-Ginsberg Election Reform Commission Improve Our Dismal Election System? He concludes that it is all very good in theory, but that the commission has such limited goals that in the end it will probably be of no practical value. You see, the commission is not looking toward any federal laws. The assumption is that the Republicans would never go for that because they know (as we all do) that the easier it is to vote, the worse they do. So the commission will instead come up with a list of “best practices” that Republicans in red states will ignore because, you know, scary black voter fraud.

My biggest problem is that the Republican half of the head of this commission is Ben Ginsberg. People keep describing Ginsberg as “Romney’s campaign lawyer.” Okay, he is that. But I know him from Recount. The movie paints a picture of him as a win by any means necessary conservative. You know: a Reasonable Republican. What I think is very telling is that there is an interview on the DVD with the real Ben Ginsberg and he is thrilled with his portrayal.

Hasen has what is probably a more objective view of Ginsberg, but it isn’t exactly positive:

Ginsberg is an adult who has never bought into the hyperbolic rhetoric by some on the Republican side about an epidemic of voter fraud requiring all kinds of steps to make it harder to vote. Yet Ginsberg is not like Trevor Potter (McCain’s campaign lawyer), who is a campaign reformer and is regarded by some Republicans with suspicion. Ginsberg is a strong conservative, very smart, and not likely to give away the store to Democrats.

That last sentence is critical and it is why I feel so cynical about the whole process. Republican policy is not popular. The more people who vote, the worse they do. In a country that required voting, the Republicans would have to moderate their ideology back several decades. So their only incentive is look like they care about democracy and perhaps make voting marginally more fair.

And I don’t blame them. If my policy ideas were unpopular, I would still try to get them enacted. I would rail against democracy. And I would do it because I would firmly believe that my ideas would be good for everyone, even those idiots who disagreed with me. (Of course, I think a lot of conservatives know very well that their policies are not good for everyone. They know that their policies are really only good for the elite. You can see this in their embrace of social Darwinism. See Corey Robin’s excellent The Reactionary Mind for more about conservative thinking.)

There is a catch-22 kind of thing going on here. By allowing the Republican Party to radicalize itself, it becomes very difficult to bring the country back from the edge of the abyss. This is very clear in our current attempt to keep America a democracy. When the most reasonable Republican we can choose for our election administration commission is a win-at-any-cost ideologue like Ben Ginsberg, we are in real trouble.

Bushonomics Vs. Ryanonomics

Marco Rubio Time Magazine CoverI’ve avoided writing about Marco Rubio. Mostly, it is just pena ajena—it embarrasses me to watch others’ public humiliation. But also: what is there to say? His State of the Union response was complete Republican boilerplate: pretend that the president is someone else and attack that guy.

Matt Yglesias has an interesting take on the speech. To him, it marked the return of Bushonomics. There is something to this, although I think he is giving the Republicans a bit too much credit. The theory goes something like this. The Republicans have been focused on the budget deficit for the last four years. If only we balance our budget (on the backs of the poor, of course) then it would be Morning in America! But now, Bobby Jindal and more explicitly Marco Rubio are signaling the return of the theory that we don’t need to worry about deficits because monster economic growth will save us.

In a separate article, Yglesias takes Ezra Klein to task for claiming that the Bush policies produced reasonable growth, Actually, Bush-Era Growth Was Pretty Lousy. He notes that Rubio is now promising 4% growth, just like Bush did. But just like Bush, Rubio’s policies are likely to result in something more like 1% growth:

But the actual George W. Bush administration gave us a weakish recovery from a mild recession, a couple years of growth, then a mild recession centered on the construction industry, and then a huge economic collapse. Bad times.

I agree with all this, but I don’t agree that Rubio is signaling any change. The Republican claim is always that they are going to create incredible economic growth via tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts for the poor. But these policies are more consecutive rather than concurrent. When a Democrat is in the White House, they call for spending cuts that hurt the poor. When a Republican is in the White House, they call for tax cuts that help the rich.

Rucio’s speech was typical vague Republican policy. It all comes down to “make the rich richer and the poor poorer.” But they can’t come out and say that. So they talk about out of control spending and legislative uncertainty. In fact, I think that Yglesias has been a little fooled by the Republicans. He seems to think that Medicare Part D was about something other than giving pharmaceutical companies huge unjustified government checks. Yes, the Republicans are at least as wedded to big government as the Democrats. It’s just that they want to hand out checks to big corporations rather than poor people.

Bushonomics and Ryanonomics are the same thing. It is just that Bushonomics is for when Republicans are in power and Ryanonomics are for when Democrats are in power. The only thing Marco Rubio is signaling is that he plans to run for president in 2016.