Matt does a sensible post on the merit of more liberal immigration policies for high-skilled workers, and receives a barrage of criticism from his readers. Some of them are just economic illiterates who believe that importing too many brown people will destroy America’s middle class. But the really galling comments are those from self-serving engineers like “Dave” who can’t stomach the thought of having to compete on a level playing field with people swarthier than themselves:
Because if you can’t trust business to only use H-1B visas only when there are no other qualified workers and not as a weapon to drive down salaries who can you trust. As an engineer, I can tell you that when many more visas started to be issued in the late 90′s, engineering salaries stagnated. Even as were told that there was a labor shortage for skilled workers, I knew many engineers who were laid off and could not find jobs. At the same time, the company I worked for more or less stopped hiring American engineers in favor of H-1B applicants. I’m really tired of someone who has zero chance of losing his job in favor of a cheaper labor lecturing those who are on what a wonderful world it would then be.
I’m sure the guy who bags Dave’s groceries for a third of his salary has a great deal of sympathy for Dave and his stagnating wages. And I bet the janitor who cleans Dave’s hotel room when he’s traveling wouldn’t mind paying higher prices for a variety of goods and services so that engineers like Dave can once again enjoy robust wage growth. And I’m sure the security guard at the front desk of Dave’s company (who probably makes half of what Dave does) has no interest in the better and cheaper high-tech products those additional H1-B workers might develop.
High salaries aren’t manna from heaven; they’re ultimately paid for by consumers in the form of high prices. And if Dave makes more than $60,000/year, chances are the average consumer buying the products his company makes make less than he does. The focus on foreigners is just a way to play on peoples’ xenophobia; the real issue is whether the government should enact policies that ensure that low-income Americans continue to pay high prices to ensure that Dave’s salary doesn’t stagnate. I’m sure Dave’s a very nice person, but I’m afraid I just don’t have much sympathy for the guy.