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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4657/the-myth-of-the-math-and-science-shortage/

The Myth of the Math and Science Shortage

February 6, 2006 by

Bush is not only raising false hopes, diverting career paths, and wasting money; he is raising a non-problem and purporting to solve it with a non-solution. The central-planning approach to boosting science was tried and failed in every totalitarian country, and the same will be true in nominally free ones as well. Still, it seems that megalomaniacs just can’t resist the urge to push the idea, which is why mathematicians and scientists leftover from Soviet days are driving cabs and tending bars in today’s Russia. FULL ARTICLE

{ 60 comments }

averros February 15, 2006 at 5:48 am

nt2000 — try to hire a decent engineer in Russia, heh. Nearly all of the “old guard” is in US and Israel, and the youngsters lack basic professional skills – and there are precious few left of those who can teach them. (I’m an owner of a software company in Russia, so I can attest that this is really a problem).

From Indian guys I’ve heard they’re facing the same problem in Bangalore. Majority of projects offshored there (and I’ve seen quite a few of them) manage to produce useless crap at best.

Cannot say much about China, as I don’t have any personal experience with R&D there.

Numbers are largely irrelevant. What matters with high-tech workforce is quality – and that is why US leadership in this field is secure for as long as it remains a magnet for the top professionals. The Dept of Homeland Security seems to be hell-bent on turning US into a third-world country by making *legal* immigration as degrading, humiliating and unpleasant as possible, though. They are the single biggest collection of assholes in the world.

Quequeg – hiring 2% of applicants in high-tech is actually quite good; in my practice 80% of applicants are simply unable to perform any useful work in their stated profession and/or lying in their resume, 15% are mediocre (defined as order-of-magniture less productive than the best), and of the remaining 5% only 0.5-1% have the right experience and knowledge of specific technology needed for the project at hand.

R.P. McCosker February 15, 2006 at 3:18 pm

Even if “averros” is correct that 80% are outright unqualified, what he’s basically saying is that tech companies can’t be bothered a litttle on-the-job training for the other 19% and have to have workers who can hit the ground running on a moment’s notice. So, despite large numbers of bright eager workers at home, we need to bring in hundreds of thousands of Third Worlds techies.

It’s no secret that what tech executives really want is salary competition. Workers from places like India who’ll happily work for a third of what a technically educated American expects to live a materially acceptable life.

As a result of the legalized flood of Third World techies into America, ever fewer Americans are pursuing or continuing in those fields.

As corporatist schemers like Bill Gates chortle all the way to the bank.

averros February 15, 2006 at 5:30 pm

> Even if “averros” is correct that 80% are
> outright unqualified

By the way, the statement that 80% of applicants are unqualified is not the same as saying that 80% of workers in the field are unqualified. It’s simply the consequence of the fact that most of these applicants are out of jobs precisely because they’re unqualified.

As for retraining… well… as an employer I’m interested in someone who can do the job, not a student who’d waste my time and resources for a year, and then leave because his newly acquired skills improved his market value and he’s no longer content with the salary based on his past skills. If someone wants to learn something they got to pay for improving their value themselves. Education is a form of capital investment, and if I invest, I’d like to have title to my investment.

The labour laws in US specifically prevent employers from claiming any interest in the skills a worker obtained as a part of his on-job training. Any wonder nobody wants to train if he can hire someone already qualified?

Of course, when no one with the right qualifications is available I’d look for someone who seems bright and capable of fast learning, but this is a rarity, as these guys quickly make themselves scarce and very expensive.

> It’s no secret that what tech executives really
> want is salary competition.

It’s no secret that any owner of any business really wants salary competition. So do workers – because businesses compete for them just as they compete for jobs. Repeating this truism doesn’t make it into a reason to turn the country into a cheap plastic imitation of shogunate Japan.

> Workers from places like India who’ll happily
> work for a third of what a technically educated
> American expects to live a materially acceptable
> life.

First of all, you can’t pay an H-1B worker less than the prevailing wage (determined by DOL), so this claim of the “third of the wage” is, basically, crap. What makes H-1B workers more attaractive is their, well, enforced loyalty. These have both incentive to learn, and can be expected to stay for some time after they were trained. If you really wish to erase that difference, have US government to issue unqualified employment authorizations (aka Green Cards) to everyone who has a job offer, quickly. Foreighners on GCs have to compete directly with American workers, and have disadvantages of being less fluent in English and of being suspected of bringing cultural compatibility issues into the workplace.

In other words, all advantage the foreighn workers have over their Americal colleagues is created by the bureaucratic feet-dragging of the government (DHS) and, perversely, by the protections supposedly designed to benefit American workers. One is loyal to the employer when he’s waiting many years for his GC to be processed and approved, he has no choice.

As for “expects”, I’d say a lot of people seem to have vastly inflated expectations. Why someone who mastered some basic programming expects to be paid 6-figure salary is totally beyond me. Why what is “materially acceptable” to teachers and waiters is not “acceptable” to those who don’t really have any unique or not-easily-acquired skills?

There was an Internet boom period when the shortage was so dire that companies hired totally inexperienced and underqualified people by paying them salaries from the free money thrown at them by the investors. Suddenly all Starbucks employees were studying Web design and leaving for the greener pastures – so SF got a shortage of waiters. We also know what the investors really bought then – a lot of hot air.

Now, the same people who were given loads of money for a hope that some of them may turn in some work have these expectations and scream bloody murder because nobody wants to hire them. It’s all freaking fuhrighner fault, sure. Worse, because they become adept at juggling jargon and being creative in their resumes they often manage to take jobs of the real professionals – they’re found out some time later, but it’s a little help to those who were passed over.

> As a result of the legalized flood of Third
> World techies into America, ever fewer Americans
> are pursuing or continuing in those fields.

Not so. Technical work is demanding and real hard. Many high-tech companies are working in permanent fire-fighting mode, when heroic sacrifices from employes are expected on a daily basis.

Americans simply have an option of going to legal or management professions, where they have a serious advantage over the immigrants, and make better living for themselves with less efforts. The children of immigrants (who see their parents working 60-hour weeks and having no life outside of office) and who are fluent in the local language and culure make exactly the same choices as the Americans from longer-established families.

> As corporatist schemers like Bill Gates chortle
> all the way to the bank.

Do I sense envy speaking here?

Bill G 3rd is a son of a prominent lawyer, by the way, and his initial success has a lot to do with being firmly in touch with the government and big business establishment through his family ties. His later success has a lot to do with use of government-granted monopoly rights (aka “intellectual property”) which he learned to twist to his advantage. Without government enforcers, Microsoft wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to maintain their near monopoly for so long.

R.P. McCosker February 16, 2006 at 3:17 am

averros writes:

“As for retraining… well… as an employer I’m interested in someone who can do the job, not a student who’d waste my time and resources for a year, and then leave because his newly acquired skills improved his market value and he’s no longer content with the salary based on his past skills. If someone wants to learn something they got to pay for improving their value themselves. Education is a form of capital investment, and if I invest, I’d like to have title to my investment.”

Naturally an employer prefers as little training as possible. The issue here is that traditionally employers had to deal with that in the marketplace. They often had to train people to the extent that the market failed to provide hit-the-ground-running hirees, and nobody felt much sorry for them if they happened to whine about trainees “who’d waste [their] time and resources for a year.” That was the reality of the employment marketplace.

Nowadays we get palm-greasing corporatist fatcats going to Congress tearfully pleading for hordes of impoverished Third World techies to come here because there’s hardly anyone here to do the jobs. That’s essentially fakery. The Third World techies aren’t particularly more “qualified” than their American counterparts, but they can be paid less and otherwise treated worse than the latter.

“The labour laws in US specifically prevent employers from claiming any interest in the skills a worker obtained as a part of his on-job training. Any wonder nobody wants to train if he can hire someone already qualified?”

The point isn’t whether an employer *wants* to train employees. That’s simply part of the cost of doing business in the real world. My skepticism is directed at arrogant if not disingenuous corporatists who agitate for special treatment for the tech industry, in this case pretending that what is merely a universal aspect of the marketplace requires unique dispensation for the tech industry. It’s analogous to the pernicious notion that farmers ought to receive subsidies and price supports because it’s unacceptable for farmers to fail in their business, when — for good reason — such treatment isn’t extended or even deemed appropriate for most other kinds of businesses.

I don’t doubt federal and state labor laws wrongly make training less worthwhile. Minimum wage laws, workers’ comp, insurance requirements ad infinitum make apprenticeships impractical in a way they might once have been. But I don’t notice the Bill Gateses complaining about those. It’s much safer in our Zeitgeist to slyly seek to undercut wages of native workers.

“It’s no secret that any owner of any business really wants salary competition. So do workers – because businesses compete for them just as they compete for jobs. Repeating this truism doesn’t make it into a reason to turn the country into a cheap plastic imitation of shogunate Japan.”

Dèjá vu all over again: Yes, any employer wants abundant prospective employee competition. But it’s mainly in the tech field that you get all these tearful executive pleas that federal action is needed to ensure that desperately impoverished Third Worlders will supply that abundance. They’re able to get away with that because the general public is so ignorant of, and confused and intimidated by, the tech industry that it’s easily conned by suggestions that would be seen as betraying common sense when applied to most fields of enterprise.

“First of all, you can’t pay an H-1B worker less than the prevailing wage (determined by DOL), so this claim of the ‘third of the wage’ is, basically, crap. What makes H-1B workers more attaractive is their, well, enforced loyalty. These have both incentive to learn, and can be expected to stay for some time after they were trained. If you really wish to erase that difference, have US government to issue unqualified employment authorizations (aka Green Cards) to everyone who has a job offer, quickly. Foreighners on GCs have to compete directly with American workers, and have disadvantages of being less fluent in English and of being suspected of bringing cultural compatibility issues into the workplace.”

There’s a certain minimum these workers must be paid, but because of their desperation to obtain and retain these positions they’re typically paid far less than similarly technically qualified Americans who’d otherwise get those jobs.

For further discussion thereto, cf. http://www.vdare.com/letters/tl_060601.htm (in particular, scroll halfway down to read reply and note links).

“In other words, all advantage the foreighn workers have over their Americal colleagues is created by the bureaucratic feet-dragging of the government (DHS) and, perversely, by the protections supposedly designed to benefit American workers. One is loyal to the employer when he’s waiting many years for his GC to be processed and approved, he has no choice.
As for ‘expects’, I’d say a lot of people seem to have vastly inflated expectations. Why someone who mastered some basic programming expects to be paid 6-figure salary is totally beyond me. Why what is ‘materially acceptable’ to teachers and waiters is not ‘acceptable’ to those who don’t really have any unique or not-easily-acquired skills?”

A programmer with very limited programming skills (or ability?) presumably isn’t ready for a six-figure on the market as currently constituted. But many of the more able will never get the experience they need to oneday justify a six-figure income, either because they can’t get much such work at all given the propensity of many employers for cheap and compliant Third World techies, or because even when they can find steady work they know their salaries will always be driven way down by this specially imported competition.

“There was an Internet boom period when the shortage was so dire that companies hired totally inexperienced and underqualified people by paying them salaries from the free money thrown at them by the investors. Suddenly all Starbucks employees were studying Web design and leaving for the greener pastures – so SF got a shortage of waiters. We also know what the investors really bought then – a lot of hot air.
Now, the same people who were given loads of money for a hope that some of them may turn in some work have these expectations and scream bloody murder because nobody wants to hire them. It’s all freaking fuhrighner fault, sure. Worse, because they become adept at juggling jargon and being creative in their resumes they often manage to take jobs of the real professionals – they’re found out some time later, but it’s a little help to those who were passed over.”

I agree that the tech bubble screwed up a lot of stuff, as is the wont of consequences of Statist policies. But that doesn’t alter the basic reality that the alleged shortage of American computer professionals is a combination of self-serving corporatist hype and self-aggrandizing Statist hype.

“> As a result of the legalized flood of Third
> World techies into America, ever fewer Americans
> are pursuing or continuing in those fields.

“Not so. Technical work is demanding and real hard. Many high-tech companies are working in permanent fire-fighting mode, when heroic sacrifices from employes are expected on a daily basis.”

Non sequitur?

“> As corporatist schemers like Bill Gates chortle
> all the way to the bank.

“Do I sense envy speaking here?”

Oh, brother.

I support property, markets, and no restrictions or inhibitions against wealth. I oppose graduated — or any, really — taxes. You put two and two together.

As Rothbard would be among the first to note, the high levels of corporatedom are among those especially prone to parasitize off the body politic. Many are mainly parasites, but the record is much more mixed when it comes to genuinely profoundly productive men like Gates or John D. Rockefeller.

“Bill G 3rd is a son of a prominent lawyer, by the way, and his initial success has a lot to do with being firmly in touch with the government and big business establishment through his family ties. His later success has a lot to do with use of government-granted monopoly rights (aka ‘intellectual property’) which he learned to twist to his advantage. Without government enforcers, Microsoft wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to maintain their near monopoly for so long.”

So, what, you envious or something? ;-)

I suspect that, even with IP law, Gates would be a tech industry billionaire (if just barely). IP certainly functions to concentrate wealth in a much more limited number of hands.

Info_Tech_Guy February 23, 2006 at 5:12 pm

Please consider that the comments from Bush re. a math/sciences educational crisis come at the exact moment when he has pushed for large increases in non-immigrant visas and even suggested outright end to limits.

Bush’s comments support the propaganda campaign waged by groups such as CompeteAmerica and the ITPAA to convince Americans that there is a crisis — a severe and desperate shortage of skilled technical/scientific workers in the U.S. which can only be resolved by allowing in large numbers of workers from the Third World who will work for substantially less than the salaries currently paid to the (overwhelmingly non-union) software engineers, programmers, DBA and assorted other IT work categories.

Info_Tech_Guy February 24, 2006 at 9:00 am

One of the other people posting seems to believe that the H-1b program includes safeguards ensuring that NIV workers are paid the prevailing salaries. I would point interested readers to the following recent study by John Miano, a former software engineer and past-president of the Programmer’s Guild (a non-union professional organization):
http://www.cis.org/articles/2005/back1305.html

Miano joins Norm Matloff (U.C., Davis) in documenting the fact American corporations use the NIV programs as a means of sharply cutting labor costs. This is in sharp contrast to the press releases of industry lobbies such as NAM, COC, Business Roundtable, ITAA and CompeteAmerica.

tr01742 March 4, 2007 at 12:53 pm

I have removed my master’s degree in math from my resume to get jobs. I presently work in an office. If anybody asks what I did for the time I was in grad school, I will them them I attempted grad school, but couldn’t pass the coursework. I consider the masters in math to be job repellant.

I have taken additional courses in accounting(5 of them) and computer science in an effort to put myself in a better position to compete for jobs, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect.

I went to an open house at a law school last year and found out about a doctor of mathematics who recently attended the school because he was unable to find employment in his field.

Lokster August 12, 2007 at 5:27 am

This article has some relevance but unfortunately is too emotional to be taken seriously.

Let’s see now… we have an argument against politicians saying they should not make decisions relevant to mathematicians since the politicians are “probably the least well educated in technical fields.” In that case, this same argument holds against the author and he should stop writing, unless of course he presumes to have training in both math and political science.

In the last two paragraphs we have the old slippery slope appeal to catch those who are still not persuaded. Heck, even I know some journalism and can pitch a good strawman: of course, Area 51 must be the reason for the politicians whining about the math and science teacher shortages–where else would we put all the talented students they bring in?

Mathematical logic isn’t required to see through this unsophisticated sophistry, but I don’t blame the author because, like he himself said, he only limits himself to what he learned best: journalism.

Randy June 16, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I think a lot of this is pretty simple. The govt vis-a-vis private industries simply want more job applicants but then simultaneously, the academic labs want more grad students and postdocs. That’s the alpha and the omega of the lies about shortages and subsequent oversupplies of scientists and engineers.

Now, here’s where there’s no problem… what’s the definition of medical school? It’s an advanced masters degree in human physiology w/ clinicals. Yes, it’s a graduate level science program but yet, there’s no shortage of US citizen and green card holder applicants and there’s no shortage of women applicants either. In other words, by guaranteeing high employability and a six figure income, one can always have a ready made pool of applicants w/o lying to the public. I’d argue that it’s easier to get into a single US medical school (I don’t mean like Johns Hopkins but an average program, given 12-15 applications) then it is to find employment at a Google, straight out of college. And at the same time, a professional association, AMA, needs to certify each degree granting institute and thus, insures a supply side constraint.

All and all, most intelligent college students know the above so in general, the science and engineering USA applicants tend to be walking into their own graves, fully knowing (aside from the lies/pat on the back from advisors) that their career is that of a lowly postdoc w/o that “Google offer letter” from industry. Usually, it’s a matter of pride/ego that a high IQ (but socially challenged) American doesn’t opt for patent law, pharmacist, or MD pathologist a/o anesthesiologist knowing perfectly well that one can be a studious nerd but never find a job, outside of a licensed study-holic profession. And no anesthesiologist, I know of, earns less than $250K/yr even after malpractice insurance.

Rob November 16, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I can tell you from 12+ years in the software industry that there is a glut of supposed software engineers. Most of them are downright incompetent and really should be doing something else.

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