Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Zuckerberg's Corrupt Stance on Immigration





We've known for a while that hi-tech companies have been offshoring production facilities, where cheap labor, lax safety and tough anti-union conditions prevail. What's become apparent lately is that these same tech companies have begun to exploit the foreign student visa program, known as H-1B, in order to push wage-costs down.

You would have thought that with all the riches generated by the computer revolution, there'd be enough money to reward American college graduates in computer engineering fields with decent jobs. But you'd have been wrong. 

In the U.S. Congress, interest groups and industry advocates have been busy lobbying Senators and Representatives to pass new immigration policies designed to grant amnesty to the 11 million illegal aliens, and to expand the number of H-1B visa quotas 300%.

Tech companies have been crying for more foreign workers, claiming that there aren't enough American entry-level applicants to fill their needs. But the evidence contradicts this claim.

It's important to understand that folks like Mark Zuckerberg, another one of your scatterbrained, but ambitious software wizards, couldn't give a fig about the overall problems that uncontrolled immigration brings. He's out to get more cheap tech labor, and the H-1B visa program is the tool.

In an editorial for the Washington Post, the chief of Facebook laid out his rationale for Fwd.us (a bipartisan political advocacy group aimed at changing the U.S. economy through legislative reform in areas like immigration, education and scientific research), discussing the country’s shift from a natural resources-based economy to one he calls a “knowledge economy,” or an ideas-based one.

In this new economy, he says, “we need the most talented and hardest-working people. We need to train and attract the best.” To that end, Mr. Zuckerberg highlighted three priorities for his group: comprehensive immigration reform that provides a clear path to citizenship; education reform to press for higher standards in schools and a “much greater focus” on math and sciences; and increased investment for scientific research.

“We will work with members of Congress from both parties, the administration and state and local officials,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. We will use online and offline advocacy tools to build support for policy changes, and we will strongly support those willing to take the tough stands necessary to promote these policies in Washington.”

The group is supported by more than two dozen prominent technology leaders, including a circle of 11 founders made up of Mr. Zuckerberg and Joe Green, Mr. Zuckerberg’s former Harvard University roommate who will now serve as president of Fwd.us.


Silicon Valley going to bed with immigrant rights folks may seem an unlikely alliance, but pragmatism can create queer ambiguities in the fast-moving world of political alliances. Rich computer corporations using the Mexican immigrant rights platform to front for their business interest is the new unholy marriage of our time.

Facebook is the new generation's dumb replacement for intelligent communication, as if boiling down all your thought and discussion down to a few abbreviations and coded short-hand would make you more "connected." You're connected alright, like kindergarteners in a circle-jerk. Zuckerberg's "big idea" was to automate and streamline the fraternity grapevine, turning teen gossip into the new party-line. Suddenly, full-grown adults could play phone-tag from anywhere. 

And for this, Zuckerberg's transformed into a multi-billionaire, with a full retinue of accountants and attorneys and financial advisors to effect whatever whimsical cause or impulse crosses his mind. 

But the argument in favor of more Indian and Chinese and Indonesian and Korean and Arab programmers and software engineers isn't about "solving" America's immigration problem, it's about holding the line on tech salaries, and maintaining solidarity among the new crony elite in Silicon Valley's gang of billionaires.

These guys think they're geniuses. Everyone tells them they are, so they must believe it. One little bright  idea--often stolen from others or cobbled together with collaborators who get pushed out of the bargain--and one big ego, ruthless and hungry for power. That's been the story, over and over again. And once these "geniuses" make enough money, they have enormous influence in the world. 

Occasionally, an honest and modest one appears, such as Warren Buffett, who realizes that his investment acumen doesn't entitle him to decide political and economic issues on the national and world stage.  But typically, they think they understand everything, and can tell the rest of us how to live. They like to throw their weight around. They sit in plush chairs, and get interviewed by fawning acolytes, and smile and smirk like alligators in the cool celebrity mud pond, under the stifling glare of thousands of pathetic envious wannabes. Only in America.

Meanwhile, a Rutgers University professor, Hal Salzman, has been studying the phenomenon of our pool of domestic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates, and how our immigration policies have been harming our domestic tech employment market.

"It's Econ 101," says Salzman, "employers generally don't pay more than what they have to pay as long as they can get what they need without paying for it. If you can increase supply, you can hold down wages." They're no shortage of homegrown talent, but there is a lack of willingness to pay for it." 

Salzman's study, from the Economic Policy Institute, points out that the offshoring industry is heavily dependent on guest-worker visas, companies that offer to help U.S. businesses lower costs by moving their information technology functions and jobs abroad, or by recruiting foreign "exchange students" who want to study in U.S. colleges and universities. But why offshore, if you can bring the cheap labor back here?

Industry, claims Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, "is producing more high-skilled jobs than there are high-skilled workers to fill them," which explains why Smith backs provisions of the new Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that would increase the annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 180,000 over time. "The talent shortage is so acute that we need more foreign workers to address today's workforce needs." 

But the "shortage" theory is just bunk. In 2009, two-thirds of computer science graduates worked in their field. Of the one-third that didn't, three in 10 said they couldn't find a job. Five in 10 said they chose another field due to better pay, promotions, and working conditions, according to their research, based on government data. "The story keeps coming back to wages," Salzman said. "They go elsewhere where the pay is better."

If there were truly shortages, Salzman said, the market would push up wages for workers, providing an incentive for more people to enter the field. But, he said, pay has stayed flat in technology corridors throughout the nation.

Meanwhile, the number of guest workers has increased. Though there are caps on the number of H-1B visas, companies don't have to prove that they have searched for a U.S. worker before filling the spot with a foreign worker. 


Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute, said Wednesday that allowing an expanding cadre of STEM workers from abroad would ultimately hurt job development in the U.S. "When wages are falling, [graduates] don't go into the field," he said. "You have a self-fulfilling prophecy. You discourage these workers, and then you'll get more guest workers until finally, you've killed the supply of U.S. students and workers," he said. "That is not the recipe for a healthy economy."

(I had the occasion a couple of years ago to visit a fellow in the lower East Bay Area. He lived in a sort of compound, a huge condominium residence campus, comprised exclusively of Indian and other Asian immigrant workers and their families. You would have thought you were in a suburb of Delhi. These folks had all been courted by computer and tech firms in the Bay Area, and been housed in a segregated "project" development where they could be surrounded by others in their circumstance. I suppose I had been lulled by inattention to believe that the guest workers in the tech industry constituted a small cadre of individuals. But this showed me how extensive and organized the foreign worker program had become in Silicon Valley. These people were no more qualified to work here than our domestic tech graduates, but they had been encouraged and helped to move their families to America, where they would agree to work for less than our domestic job-seekers. After all, even the lowest of professional level wages look rich to Indian nationals.)     

So now bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Mark Zuckerberg tells us we need to open up the borders and roll out the welcome-wagon to the economic refugees of Central and South America, because "it's the right thing to do," the feel-good solution to the millions of illegals who have infiltrated our economy. It may be political pragmatism to side with the Dreamers and the Amnesty advocates, when you want to depress wages and kill tech education in this country. Zuckerberg, after all, didn't need a degree--he dropped out of Harvard because he had a better idea. (Actually, he probably would have been kicked out eventually, anyway, since he was violating the privacy of others in the Harvard student-body with his prank "social media" network games.) 

Unfortunately, Zuckerberg's "better idea" is destined to make functional idiots out of a whole generation of teenagers and young adults, while Zuckerberg gets rich and richer in the bargain. 

Zuckerberg needs to put his untold wealth to good use, as Microsoft head Bill Gates has figured out how to do. These freckle-faced egg-heads have to be told how to be responsible philanthropists; it isn't something you're born with.

Mr. Zuckerberg, please shut up.

3 comments:

Conrad DiDiodato said...

nnCurtis,

thank you for this interesting post. I happen to be reading at the moment Clay Shirky's latest book "Cognitive Surplus" and I'm not entirely unhappy with the claim (if I read Zuckerberg aright) that America can benefit from the opportunities that exist in the way social media technology has broken down the traditional 'Consumer/Collaborator' barrier. It's a distinctively 'transnational' mindset of which (whether you like it or not) Zuckerberg et al. are the contemporary guiding lights. I'm certain opening the borders to a cadre of bright Asian high-tech workers is meant to facilitate that demand for a type of work (&worker) that is showing how (in Shirky's words) "our new communications tools are aggregating our individual ability to create and share, at unprecedented levels". It's a real democratization of communication media that I find exciting (and in which I regret that I'm not young enough to participate more fully)

I'm all for tapping the "cognitive surplus" released by computer technology and investing in a future of bright eager minds, from whatever part of the work, that will facilitate it.

Curtis Faville said...

Conrad:

I don't buy that you can't participate.

The new media is no different than the old, in this respect: Content still matters, and the new limitations on that don't take us one step forward if they don't facilitate real progress.

Mobile hand-held devices have no more efficient function, in my view, than in giving people a way to ask for help, or to keep appointments. They don't expand our ability to communicate, except in the most cursory way, and they encourage children and teenagers to believe that the time spent frittering on them is somehow a preparation for a world they expect to live and work in. It isn't.

There is no replacement for close reading, thought, and writing well and effectively. These new "social media" devices do nothing to promote that. In fact, they do just the opposite.

People like Zuckerberg aren't messiahs of a new order. They're just the old-fashioned hucksters selling air time to imbeciles. We give them the time of day because we daren't reject the "future." But they aren't the future. They're selling empty calories.

Ed Baker said...

Intellectualism and [worldly] conceptualization has
(pretty much) ruined/withered poetry.... and art....and.... just-ABOUT
everything else.

it's so much stupefying technology devoid of any adventure (spiritual or otherwise):

it is a betrayal that we in this present culture think that we have the world in the palm-of-oh-hand by
merely turning on the tv et or the computer/internet .
how can ANYTHING (in N HUMn dimension) be grasped amid all of this speed and noise ?

I ask you:

bring me my solitude and silence / a piece of paper and a pencil...
some crayons and a brush-mind that thinks for it s self...

not in any-way religiously , but

spiritually