Still the No Brainer Issue of the Year

by on September 21, 2012 at 8:56 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Education | Permalink

In The No Brainer Issue of the Year I wrote:

Behind Door #1 are people of extraordinary ability: scientists, artists, educators, business people and athletes. Behind Door #2 stand a random assortment of people. Which door should the United States open?

Once again, as the NYTimes reports, our dysfunctional political system has opted for Door #2:

A Republican bill to provide permanent resident visas for foreigners who graduate from American universities with advanced degrees in science and technology failed to pass the House on Thursday, a setback for technology companies that had strongly supported it.

…[The bill] would have eliminated an annual lottery and instead allocated 55,000 visas for legal permanent residency, known as green cards, each year to foreigners who have completed master’s and doctoral degrees from American universities in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

1 john personna September 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

It almost feels unfair to mention the fact that Rick Santorum doesn’t really like college, nor smart people. But that he thinks that message “works” is pretty significant.

2 TOm September 21, 2012 at 9:01 am

Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
This must make Tyler sick to think we built the greatest county in the world with this policy.

3 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:25 am

This post is written by Alex, not Tyler.

4 prior_approval September 21, 2012 at 10:51 am

Who, as a tenured professor, is likely consider himself one of those behind door 1, though not in a self-serving way.

This reminds me of a Doonesbury cartoon around the time of the Gulf War (doesn’t even matter which one), where at a college reunion, a student is serving congresswoman Davenport, and asks her if she supported the war. She answers yes, and he replies so did most of the students at the university.

When she asks if he should have also fought, he essentially answers ‘no, I’m not sure the country’s best and brightest should be on the front lines.’

She answers ‘And yet, there they were.’ His response is ‘You know what I mean.’

Give me the sort of people who came to this country and built it, the ones behind door 2.

5 CBBB September 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

No no no only Academics with PhDs deserve a chance at anything.

6 Andrew' September 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

So, what you are saying is that our education system is absolutely useless at proper granulation of talent? I’m not quite as extreme as that.

7 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 11:58 am

Amazing how popular the signaling theory of education gets among progressives when the topic turns to education.

I too would prefer opening immigration up more widely. But if I had to choose between the options presented, I would prefer this bill.

8 Andrew' September 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm

And it’s amazing how people like the one I just called to see if they can make payments on the car I sold them when they couldn’t get credit and didn’t have a job or a car iare the same as the people who built the Empire State building. A large part of the economy is insulating yourself from these people. It’s not 47%, but sometimes it seems that way.

9 Andrew' September 21, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Hey, here’s a proposal, since we have a functioning meritocracy unlike the shitholes a lot of these people hail from, for every potential dirt bag we let in, we have to deport a proven dirt bag.

10 dead serious September 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm


I have a good starting list: Dick Fuld, Angelo Mozilo, Bernie Ebbers, Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Madoff, Karl Rove, Al Sharpton, and probably half the Congress.

11 Brandon September 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

Jesus. Yes, by all means, try to get to the left of libertarians on *immigration,* of all things. Next we can club them with The Wire on the drug war, and finish by citing Dr. Strangelove to ridicule their hawkish foreign policy.

12 ThomasH September 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm

“Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” was not a bad policy at a time when the supply of highly educated potential immigrants was low, but today we can do a lot better.

13 Mike g September 21, 2012 at 11:07 pm


In the mid-late 1800’s, the US wasn’t the first place that most intellectuals, professionals, and wealthy scions thought about immigrating to. Today, it is, and aggressively competing for intellectual and financial capital is a good thing.

14 Andrew' September 21, 2012 at 9:07 am

I guess the Republicans and Democrats both buy the signaling model. Well, let’s make the foreigners pay the cost of their education and I’ll make that deal. This is us, stumblling and bumbling to the immigration tax.

15 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:11 am

Republicans voted 227 to 5 in favor of this bill. Democrats voted 153 to 30 against. If you’re wondering why that means it didn’t pass, that’s because it required a two-thirds majority to fast track it under suspension of the rules.

The Republicans incorrectly thought that they’d be able to get a few more Democratic votes on the bill. Perhaps they’ll come back later.

16 Another Andrew September 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm

No, the Republicans knew they wouldn’t get the Democratic votes. They wanted to vote for it but didn’t want it to pass. Now they get to be the party fighting to help Silcon Valley get the top talent they need, which is much more lucrative if the fight is ongoing.

17 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:24 am

The Democrats voted against because the bill eliminated diversity lottery green card spots as part of a trade for giving out these, and the Democrats prefer diversity lottery visas to advanced degree holders.

18 Andrew' September 21, 2012 at 9:58 am

My joke was that Republicans like a proposal that says some people are better than others and Democrats don’t like that for the same reason. My position is that if higher education has a limited number of slots, and if you buy the increasing human capital model of education, then if education is a requirement for citizenship because citizenship and education makes you a more productive human, then they can pay a fee that supports the education system.

19 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

Ah, I see. My apologies for making you explain the joke.

20 prior_approval September 21, 2012 at 10:56 am

‘Democrats prefer diversity lottery visas to advanced degree holders’
Interestingly, neither Bill Gates nor Steven Jobs have advanced degrees. But why bother talking about men who just happened to build giant, global spanning corporations when we should be attracting the sort of people they weren’t. Jobs, whose birth father was Syrian, particularly looks like the sort of person standing behind door 2.

21 Andrew' September 21, 2012 at 11:02 am

I’m not a statistician nor a higher ed theorist, but your story doesn’t sound quite right.

22 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

Anecdotes are a terrible way to make policy, but Jobs’s birth father was in the US on a student visa.

You’d have a better time focusing not on Jobs’s birth father, but on his adoptive parents, who were not college graduates. This disappointed Jobs’s birth mother, who really wanted him to be adopted only by college graduates, but relented after making them promise that he would be encouraged to attend college.

23 The Original D September 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm

It’s interesting that she was so adamant about this at time (the 50s) when a college degree did not offer nearly the wage premium it does now.

24 prior_approval September 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Well, the point of the Syrian birth father is that Jobs is someone like Obama – without the Harvard education, of course. Not to mention the fact that Jobs is actually half-Arab, which tends to be something not many people are aware of.

In both cases, America benefits from the fact that anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen, meaning that many, many Americans already come from behind door 2, at least in terms of having at least one (or both) non-American parent(s). Obviously, universities are one source for this sort of ‘immigration,’ that is, the mixing of various combinations of people and cultures. A city like NYC being another example, with universities playing a much smaller role in that mixing process.

But notice that someone like Jobs succeeded without much in the way of advanced degrees, and that the process of his upbringing is notably lacking in the university education his birth parents desired him to have.

Jobs comes from behind door 2, in utterly typical American fashion. He would not have made the cut for door numer 1 at 22.

25 Careless September 21, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Obviously that makes selecting at random better policy.

26 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:10 am

The bill got 257 votes in favor to 158 opposed. The reason it failed is that the leadership was trying to fast track it under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority, and Democrats refused to go along, partially because they didn’t feel involved in the process and it thus wasn’t bipartisan enough. (Explanations given by Republicans for opposing many Democratic efforts, though here one might think that Democrats agreed with the goal.)

The Republicans votes 227 to 5 in favor of the bill. The Democrats voted 153-30 against. Rollcall here.

27 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:23 am

Ah, I read more and should point out the important reason Democrats opposed is that this bill eliminated an equivalent number of green cards in the diversity lottery, rather than increasing the total number of immigration spots.

28 David N. Welton September 21, 2012 at 11:12 am

Yes, this is the critical point. The Democrat option was to open both doors, whereas the Republicans wanted to swap one door for another. It really seems like some sort of compromise ought to be possible.

29 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

The Democrat option was to open both doors

We don’t actually know that without a vote on the Lofgren bill. Would the Lofgren bill get the level of unanimity needed among Democrats?

It really seems like some sort of compromise ought to be possible.

It’s a complicated situation with at least four options, and there’s a good chance of Condorcet cycles here. But I agree that there are compromises that, if a vote were scheduled, would win against the status quo. However, some of those compromise might lose to other options that would lose against the status quo. That makes the amendment process important.

It illustrates the importance of vote scheduling and ordering.

30 mulp September 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Republicans bills must be get up or down votes, and pass.

Democratic bills must be obstructed, and any vote that passed a Democratic bill is an undemocratic exercise of backroom dealing that overrides the will of the people.

31 byomtov September 21, 2012 at 9:29 am

Let’s be clear.

Door #2 is open today.

The Republicans wanted to open door #1 and close door #2.

The Democrats were happy to open door #1. But they wanted to leave door #2 open as well.

You may or may not agree with that, Alex, but I think you should correct your description of the disagreement.

32 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

A correct description would be, I offer:

“The Democrats (claim that they) were happy to open door #1. But they refused to open door #1 if it meant closing door #2.

More precisely, neither door #1 nor door #2 would be fully “open” in any case, both being limited to some 55,000 a year.

33 byomtov September 21, 2012 at 9:47 am


Your description is incomplete.

“The Democrats (claim that they) were happy to open door #1. But they refused to open door #1 if it meant closing door #2.”

True. And:

The Republicans (claim that they) were happy to open door #1. But they refused to open door #1 if it meant leaving door #2 open.

The Democratic position is a bit more than a claim. Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to open door #1:

Ms. Lofgren’s proposal would have created 50,000 new green cards for foreign science graduates, without eliminating or reducing the lottery.

(My bolding).

So, under Lofgren’s bill, while neither door would be “fully open” in the sense of allowing unlimited passage, the new door #1 visas would not come at the expense of a reduction in door #2 visas.

34 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:52 am

Ah, but do we know how many Democrats would actually support Lofgren’s bill? We do not, without a rollcall. I definitely believe that Rep. Lofgren would support it, given her history. Would support be as unanimous among Democrats as the Republican support for this bill? I don’t know.

35 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:54 am

We also don’t have evidence on how all the Republicans would have voted on Lofgren’s bill.

What we do have evidence of is how the House leadership (including Lamar Smith as committee chair of the relevant committee) worked, and the power of vote scheduling in determining outcomes, particularly when Condorcet cycles may exist. Arrow’s Theorem applies.

36 The Original D September 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm

We also don’t have evidence on how all the Republicans would have voted on Lofgren’s bill

Yes we do. From the article:

There is uncommonly broad consensus in Congress on the legislation’s underlying goal — keeping talented and highly educated foreign science graduates in the country so they can work and start businesses.

37 byomtov September 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm

You’re right, John. We don’t know for sure how anyone, except maybe Lofgren, would have voted on her bill.

We do know that the Republicans, who control the House, could have introduced and passed a bill that opened #1 without closing #2, and chose not to do so.

My impression is that Alex is strongly pro-immigration. If so, I wonder why he implicitly criticizes Democrats here and not Republicans.

38 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:56 am

“The Republicans (claim that they) were happy to open door #1. But they refused to open door #1 if it meant leaving door #2 open.”

No, not quite. What we learned was:

“The Republicans were happy to open door #1 [even] if it mean leaving door #2 open.”

For some unknown number of Republicans, the word “even” would be appropriate. For some other number of Republicans, the word “even” would not be appropriate at all.

39 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

Oops, miswrote that.

“The Republicans were happy to open door #1 [even] if it meant closing door #2.”

My apologies.

40 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 9:40 am

In reality, there are four positions that can be rank ordered in different ways; Open Open, Open Closed, Closed Open, and Closed Closed, where the status quo is Closed Open. The Democratic and Republican parties do not have consistent orderings even within the parties. For example, some Republicans would prefer Open Open first, and others, while preferring Open Closed first, would prefer Open Open to Closed Open as well. Some, however, would prefer Closed Closed first or second. However, nearly all Republicans prefer Open Closed to Closed Open, as this vote demonstrated. Among Republicans, the idea of being closed to highly educated but open to random lottery winners is probably the least popular of the four options (outside of a number of libertarians who dislike Closed Closed the most).

The vast majority of Democrats prefer Closed Open to Open Closed.

This one vote does not demonstrate how many Democrats would support Open Open; we need a roll call vote on Zoe Lofgren’s bill to determine that. Some Democrats in this debate may have hidden behind Lofgren’s words but wouldn’t actually support Open Open if time came to vote on it.

41 byomtov September 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Some Democrats in this debate may have hidden behind Lofgren’s words but wouldn’t actually support Open Open if time came to vote on it.

True. And some Republicans may prefer Closed Closed to Open Closed but hid behind the 2/3 requirement that they set up, knowing the bill wouldn’t get a 2/3 majority. In other words, we can ascribe lots of secret motivations to all sorts of people. Easiest thing in the world.

The vast majority of Democrats prefer Closed Open to Open Closed.

Are you talking about House members or Democrats in general? If the latter, I think you’re wrong, and in any case, you don’t really know. If the former, then let me point out that this is not a one-shot situation. You could be right, but it might also be a tactical vote by some who hope the pressure to open #1 will lead to the success of a bill that opens #1 without closing #2.

42 Alex Tabarrok September 21, 2012 at 10:48 am

“If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”


43 lords of lies September 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm

“and the trees were all kept equal, by hatchet, axe, and saw.”


44 mk September 21, 2012 at 9:36 am

I’m not sure why no one has mentioned this yet — is it clear that ethically this is a good idea? From the selfish perspective of the US, maximizing the concentration of highly educated people is a winner. However:

1) If we think of allowing a person to immigrate as giving them a subsidy, isn’t it more moral (from a world aggregate utility perspective, due to decreasing marginal utility of money) to allow a random sample of people to receive this subsidy? Similar considerations apply when you think of remittances, and/or the beneficial cascades when immigrants return to their home country (even if only temporarily) with a broadened perspective. A possible counter to this may be that the “expected salary gain for an educated potential immigrant exceeds the expected salary gain for an unskilled potential immigrant.” In that case, you would have make an empirical argument that the decreasing-marginal-utility-of-money effect is outweighed by the greater-returns-to-education-in-America effect.

2) If every country were to follow this policy, what would be the net effect? Actually this is a difficult question to answer, and I’m not sure which way the expected answer will cut. But, just as with trade policy, shouldn’t immigration policy be evaluated in international-game-theoretic terms?

45 Jody September 21, 2012 at 9:51 am

Generally there are synergistic effects from getting more talented people together in the same place, e.g, cities, corporations… There have similarly been management studies that indicate that you get bigger gains assigning top management talent to top personnel than top management to weak personnel. So I feel fairly confident is saying that you maximize sum utility by concentrating talent, not dispersing it.

On point then, the brain drain or brain concentration should be expected to be more productive than brain dispersion.

Thus if you’re concerned with distributive aspects AND overall welfare, then you would want to maximize brain concentration and couple it with remittances. But if you care only about distribution and not for welfare, than maximize brain dispersion.

46 Hadur September 21, 2012 at 9:44 am

Open both doors, please.

47 Ray Lopez September 21, 2012 at 10:43 am

Mr. President tear down this wall!

Now here’s a non no-brainer: (three doors, and Monty tells you some information, which door do you pick?)

48 Brian Donohue September 21, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I would pick door #2. Imagine my surprise at finding a teeming crowd of ‘unwashed masses’ draped all over my new car (2/3 likelihood.)

49 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 11:52 am

I agree. But how would you vote on the particular bill in question? I would vote yes, even though I certainly would prefer more immigration in general, and both doors open.

50 mulp September 21, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Putting in the doors is unconstitutional – no where in the US Constitution does Congress have the power to limit immigration.

Republicans post Civil War made a hash of the Constitutional understanding of citizenship – the privilege of participating in governance in the Greek or Roman sense.

They conflated citizenship with nationality, with individual liberty, and with residency and movement.

To argue citizenship in original intent had any bearing on migration and residency is absurd because that would mean Catholics and Jews and children and women had no individual rights, or a right to reside in the USA.

The idea the Constitution gives Congress the power to limit the God given right of man to move about the earth over which God gave him dominion is in the realm of the Constitution limiting the power of Congress to tax and borrow. The Constitution resulted from the inability of Congress to tax (Rhode Island vetoed all taxes) which made it impossible for Congress to borrow so that the aspirations to expand the USA to encompass all of the Americas, which needed increased immigration to build an economy able to confront the British Empire and France and other world powers.

The objection to immigration arises out of the end of redistribution of land of the natives to immigrants and the children of immigrants.

In other words, the USA was founded on the principle of redistribution of wealth which at the time was land.

51 Contemplationist September 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm

You are phenomenally ignorant on this issue. Yes precisely what you think is absurd was consitutional.

This kind of bloviation should make you re-examine the strength of all your opinions. I mean if a single Wikipedia entry can debunk your tirade, what else can you be wrong about yet so confident?

52 john personna September 21, 2012 at 9:51 am

Could immigration reversals of various sorts (senior engineers returning to India, workers returning to Mexico) be telling us that globalization had reduced the need to come to America? Invisible hand? Fifty years out how much will the American economy need thinkers or workers specifically “here?” I’d guess much less.

53 GiT September 21, 2012 at 10:13 am

Ah yes, rewarding the advantaged and snubbing the disadvantaged, always a no-brainer among a certain milieu.

54 Philip September 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

Which disadvantaged? The disadvantaged trying to get in? Or the disadvantaged they will be competing with for jobs?

55 GiT September 21, 2012 at 11:37 am

I thought the “disadvantaged” they will be competing with were a bunch of lazy moochers undeserving of sympathy.

56 BC September 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Ah yes, conflating equality of opportunity and equality of results. If someone was lucky enough to have had an education disproportionately distributed to them through no effort or ability of their own, that’s already advantage enough. We don’t need to add to the inequality by letting them into the country where they will likely passively receive a disproportionately high income was well. (We know this because, statistically, people with advanced degrees have higher incomes. Income is like a lottery, and those with advanced degrees were given a disproportionate number of lottery tickets.)

Furthermore, without roads and bridges, they never would have made it to school to “receive” an education in the first place. If you qualified for admission at an American university as a result of your studies in your home country and you capitalized on that opportunity to educate yourself, you didn’t do that, someone else made that happen.

57 GiT September 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Ah yes, going off on formulaic rants that don’t actually refer to anything to which they are responding.

58 Peter A September 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

Opening Door# 2 means more low skilled people competing for service sector jobs, and lower wages. As a business owner, or simply as a consumer of services, that works well for me. Opening Door #1 means more direct competition for me and my kids for high status jobs, so keep it closed except maybe for some geeky tech jobs I would be embarassed to see my kids doing. This policy has worked pretty well for America’s elite so far.

59 RM September 21, 2012 at 10:20 am

I think the bill is too crude. Far more nuance is needed. Physicians, yes (with conditions to reduce the long retraining they need to do in the US); certain engineers, yes; other engineers, no; certain Ph.D.s, yes, others no.

I know people who have won the diversity lottery. They do wonders with what little they have. Not all entrepreneurship needs to be defined mega investments. The cleaning lady is just as entrepreneurial.

Some split is appropriate.

60 Brian Donohue September 21, 2012 at 10:21 am
61 John Schilling September 21, 2012 at 10:40 am

This one would be a no-brainer if the United States suffered a shortage of scientists and engineers. Since we don’t, it isn’t. This is something we will actually have to think about, and I think the debate would be more productive if it were framed with a recognition that thought is required.

62 CBBB September 21, 2012 at 11:00 am

Well unfortunately Tyler and Alex worship at the alter of STEM (which is funny as neither have STEM backgrounds) – operating under the ridiculous belief that there is always and everywhere a demand for scientists and engineers.

63 Brian Donohue September 21, 2012 at 11:10 am

Someone should clue in the throngs behind door #1.

64 Millian September 21, 2012 at 11:39 am

STEM graduates would probably score high in “neurodiversity”, another MR hobby horse.

Shout it from the rooftops: maths makes you moral.

65 Gary S September 21, 2012 at 10:42 am

Tyler, wouldn’t a more libertarian position be to favor legislation that doesn’t target specific classes of workers (like STEM majors)?

I’m all for legislation like this, especially if the green card recipients (A) have full labor market rights and (B) (B) can apply if they work in one of the highly-paid rent-seeking professions (e.g. lawyer, banker, medical specialist, college professor).

66 Chris September 21, 2012 at 11:13 am

college professor

You realize that universities have very little problem getting visas for new hires compared to other professions, right? I point this out because it’s a commonplace in blog comments to suggest that somehow professors (especially economics professors) are somehow free from immigration competition, when (1) top economics programs in the U.S. are very heavily non-American and (2) academic jobs are largely open to everyone (other economist jobs, like those at the Fed, are different).

67 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

Indeed, I find it ridiculous when people bring this up. Academics probably have more open job competition with foreigners than any other position in the US.

68 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 11:48 am

The post is written by Alex, not Tyler.

This would be a full green card, so no H1-B restrictions on employers.

The existing diversity lottery already has a complicated formula that favors some countries over others. In all cases, the number of people who want to get in are greater than the available visas, so really the more libertarian position would be simply more visas, which I would want.

69 Gary S September 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm

John and Chris,

Please accept my apology if I over classified college professors as rent-seekers, but the fact remains that a significant proportion of those advocating diversity and competition want none of it for themselves.

It’s not uncommon for an immigration lawyer to appear as a guest on C-SPAN advocating immigration visas, yet the ABA just decided about a month ago that no foreign law school grad could join the organization!

When I was in engineering school, about half of the professors were foreign – this was a good thing. But my informal suspicion is that many non-STEM departments have large concentrations of native whites who ironically give lectures to everyone about diversity and immigration. They don’t face the same market vagaries that the rest of us do.

At a gathering about a year ago, a friend of mine, who is a professor of philosophy at West Chester University, was bashing the state of Alabama for its harsh immigration law. Looking at the faculty of this department (, do you see many non-European names?

According to the census (, about 12.9 percent (Table 1) of the U.S. population is foreign born. If we really did have a free market and were equal under the law, the foreign born percentage would be roughly the same in most every profession. This point is important in the ‘makers versus takers’ discussion.

70 CBBB September 21, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I don’t know…how many non-white Students do you tend to find in philosophy departments? Not many – I don’t know if it’s immigration it just seems as if the humanities and liberal arts are sort of havens for middle-class/upper-middle class white kids.

71 Gary S September 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Extend the H-1B and L-1 visas, as well as this proposed STEM green card law, with the same compensation structures (and immigration uncertainty for the visa holders) to philosophy and other departments, and let’s find out!

72 Brett September 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

Only 55,000 a year? We should offer it to every foreign graduate of a US university in a STEM field, considering how high the percentage of STEM-related start-ups are started by foreigners.

73 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 11:50 am

I agree. The 55,000 / year number was chosen because it’s equal to the number of diversity visa green cards currently offered. That was the legislative compromise chosen to get the immigration restrictionists on board, at the cost of losing Democratic votes.

74 Brett September 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I suppose the only downside would be that the student visas would get absolutely swamped with more applicants, and you might see some people cherry-picking “STEM” degrees just so they can get the green card. You’d need to be specific in defining what type of degrees count as STEM.

75 Jing September 21, 2012 at 11:06 am

Closed closed thank you very much.

Allowing in a hostile foreign elite brimming with racial animus is just as bad as inviting legions of dependent lumpenproletariat.

In fact, the former oft leads to the latter.

76 Frank Sinatra September 21, 2012 at 11:19 am

Anyone else seeing a bit of Poe’s law here?

77 prior_approval September 21, 2012 at 11:30 am

‘Start spreading the news
I am leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York

These vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

I want to wake up in that city
That doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap’

Sorry Frank, your Italian immigrant parents didn’t have any advanced degrees either.

78 Jon Rodney September 21, 2012 at 11:22 am

Open all the doors there are. I’ve had several depressing experiences while travelling re: immigration … for example, while kayaking in Peru, we had a guide who worked in tourism for a living, but studied robotics in his spare time. He asked us a lot of questions about the US, but he was unable to get even a tourist visa. The world is full of people like this: smart, ambitious, without a lot of formal education. We should just let as many of them in as we can and let the chips fall where they may.

79 mulp September 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Just ask yourself this: where does the Constitution give Congress the right to limit migration?

How can the power to set uniform citizenship apply to migration when children, women, Catholics, and Jews could not be citizens then, and today “citizens” are denied the right to vote or hold office, the only context the Constitution uses “citizen” prior to post Civil War?

Immigration became an issue when the redistribution of wealth, land, became restricted by the Pacific and the British to the north and Mexicans to the south.

80 Tim September 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Article I, section 8:

[Congress shall have the power] “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;”

81 Corey September 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm


82 Black Death September 21, 2012 at 11:23 am

Maybe it would be a good idea to close both doors. The market for STEM graduates is not booming, with the exception of a few highly specialized fields such as petroleum engineering:

“There is no scientist shortage,” declares Harvard economics professor Richard Freeman, a pre-eminent authority on the scientific work force. Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a leading demographer who is also a national authority on science training, cites the “profound irony” of crying shortage — as have many business leaders, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates — while scores of thousands of young Ph.D.s labor in the nation’s university labs as low-paid, temporary workers, ostensibly training for permanent faculty positions that will never exist.


The shortage theorists and the glut proponents, however, do agree on two things: First, something serious is wrong with America’s scientific labor supply. A prime symptom noted by all: a growing aversion of America’s top students — especially the native-born white males who once formed the backbone of the nation’s research and technical community — to enter scientific careers. Increasingly, foreign-born technical and scientific personnel on temporary visas staff America’s university labs and high-tech industries.
The second point of agreement is that, unless the underlying problem is fixed, it will seriously impair the nation’s ability to recruit top-flight homegrown talent — both for domestic innovation and for the high-level, classified, technical work vital for national security.

How about the pharmaceutical industry, which was once a source of hundreds of thousands of good jobs?

The pharmaceutical industry once was a haven for biologists and chemists who did not go into academia. Well-paying, stable research jobs were plentiful in the Northeast, the San Francisco Bay area and other hubs. But a decade of slash-and-burn mergers; stagnating profit; exporting of jobs to India, China and Europe; and declining investment in research and development have dramatically shrunk the U.S. drug industry, with research positions taking heavy hits.

Since 2000, U.S. drug firms have slashed 300,000 jobs, according to an analysis by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In the latest closure, Roche last month announced it is shuttering its storied Nutley, N.J., campus — where Valium was invented — and shedding another 1,000 research jobs.

“It’s been a bloodbath, it’s been awful,” said Kim Haas, who spent 20 years designing pharmaceuticals for drug giants Wyeth and Sanofi-Aventis and is in her early 50s. Haas lost her six-figure job at Sanofi-Aventis in New Jersey last year. She now works one or two days a week on contract at a Philadelphia university. She dips into savings to make ends meet.

The bill was a bad idea – we don’t have jobs for many of our existing STEM graduates, so we certainly don’t need more. But naturally Gates and other employers are going to clamor for them, so they will have plenty to choose from and will be able to keep wages down. Today many of our “best and brightest” avoid STEM careers for areas such as medicine, finance and banking, which offer better pay and greater job security.

83 Andrew' September 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm

2 points:

1. The people you are proposing not to go into STEM aren’t going to just evaporate. They’ll get just as useless degrees in psychology.
2. One reason manufacturing is leaving is the inability to find qualified workers at competitive prices. Maybe these people can be unemployed technical trainees as well as they can be unemployed psych students, but maybe they could lower the cost of hiring technically trained staff and create some of their own demand.

84 CBBB September 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm

They’ll get just as useless degrees in psychology

No…..they’ll go into fields like finance where you can actually make real money. The people I know who went to become accountants or got consulting gigs at places like Deloitte did far far better than the STEM people.
Seems pretty odd to tell people to go into STEM to help lower the wages of scientists and engineers in an attempt to increase demand for domestic technical workers.

85 Adam September 21, 2012 at 11:29 am

Easy. Both.

86 Millian September 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

You can’t pick both. That’s not in the rules of the game. I know libertarians like to play their own games, but try this instead: faced with that bill, what would you do?

87 Brandon September 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Yes, libertarians just want to play games! Join the big boy table, losers, where we adults impose arbitrary limits on the number of brown people that can cross the border–that is, the brown people we don’t bomb first!

88 Adam September 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm

I’m not a libertarian. And the question wasn’t specific to the bill.

Faced with that bill, though, I would probably have voted for it. It’s bad, odious and harmful, but it’s less so than the status quo.

89 Tim September 21, 2012 at 11:43 am

Economists are supposed to understand the relationships that affect economic outcomes. Political outcomes are based on those relationships, plus others. What could be a simple transaction is complicated by other pending transactions that are not as simple, and everything is held hostage until a full package is assembled with just enough participation to complete the transaction.

A burger should cost a lot more and fries and a soda a lot less, but the overall transaction between the customer and the restaurant is the important one. If you just want to buy a soda at a restaurant, you’re not getting your money’s worth.

What do you think happens when you enter a restaurant and try to order just a slice of pickle?

90 John Thacker September 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Yglesias has a pretty good summary here. Any study of voting theory would predict exactly this sort of behavior by party leadership on both sides.

As he notes, the Democrats tend to write poison pills of their own when they get a chance. It would be easy for a compromise bill that only increased high skilled immigration to pass, but both parties prefer to write bills that unify their own party and drive away the other one.

91 David Jinkins September 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm

The lottery is better for social scientists :-\ David McKenzie used something like it for New Zealand to get at the true return to migration.

92 Scott Swank September 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm

You must keep in mind that the House leadership intentionally introduced this bill under rules that required a 2/3 vote for passage. This was a bill that was intended to fail in terms of policy, seemingly with hopes that it would regardlessly succeed in terms of politics.

93 Mark Thorson September 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Having a degree is no guarantee you’re going to make a successful contribution to our society. On the other hand, having lots of money is a pretty good indicator, whether you’re educated or not. Why not auction off some of the immigration slots? I’d say auction them all off, but that might depress the market. I’d like to keep the going price well north of $1 million, preferably $2 million.

94 aegh September 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

True auction prices would be lower than $1 million. Consider the financial means of strivers who gain much from moving to the US, for starters.

95 prior_approval September 21, 2012 at 1:18 pm

‘Why not auction off some of the immigration slots?’
We already do –
‘Green Card Through Investment

Entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) who make an investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and who plan to create or preserve ten permanent full time jobs for qualified United States workers, are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence).

Up to 10,000 visas may be authorized each fiscal year for eligible entrepreneurs.

You must invest $1,000,000, or at least $500,000 in a targeted employment area (high unemployment or rural area). In return, USCIS may grant conditional permanent residence to the individual.

For more information, see Section 203(b)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and 8 CFR 204.6 (see the “INA” link to the right).’

For more information, please follow the link –

96 Saturos September 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm

If the goal is to maximize global welfare, then we have to examine whether the increase in productivity for 55,000 STEM postgraduates by coming here would be greater than 55,000 random people. We might also consider whether, given the fixed quantity of places willing to be offered, it might not be more humane to fill them with refugees. So it’s not entirely a no-brainer

97 Yancey Ward September 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm

A proper compromise would be to open door #1 completely- no limits. Keep door #2 as it is. I am betting neither party would support such a bill.

98 sunbomb September 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm

As someone who is behind door 1, I fear that it will lead to Universities around the country being forced to be the arbitrators of a Green Card. That might lead to a whole different set of problems that I am too lazy to think about.

99 lords of lies September 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm

the best policy is to close both doors for an extended moratorium, and reduce racial diversity to sustainable levels (~10-20% of majority population). it worked for america during the height of her power.

100 msgkings September 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm

It just keeps getting awesomer. ‘height of her power’…you sound like a Tolkien villain.

And how are you going to reduce that racial diversity? Sterilization? Forced deportation? Or the quick method, concentrate them in camps?

By the way, apparently if you oppose these kinds of ideas you are a ‘liberal’. The horror.

101 CBBB September 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm

you sound like a Tolkien villain

What did you expect with a name like “lord of lies”?

102 lords of lies September 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm

“And how are you going to reduce that racial diversity?”

first step, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. close the borders and incentivize amerindian migrants to return back to their home countries.


offer free contraceptives to poor people. offer cash money as a bribe if necessary. works for rwanda:

“Forced deportation?”

self-deportation through disincentives like employer fines and total restriction from the largesses of the safety net. though in all modesty i have no issue with rounding up migrant invaders and shipping them back home.

“concentrate them in camps?”

if the nazis never existed would you even have anything to say at all?

“By the way, apparently if you oppose these kinds of ideas you are a ‘liberal’.”

or a neocon.

“The horror.”

you’ll have a chance to revisit those words sooner than you think.

103 msgkings September 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm

You don’t disappoint, lol. That last line? That’s when your music needs a crescendo.

If the Nazis never existed where would you get your world view?

Why you mad? Did brown people steal the shift key on your computer or something?

104 Ranjit Suresh September 22, 2012 at 12:05 am

Yeah, there’s nothing that Lords is saying that should be beyond legitimate debate.

If European immigrants were on a trajectory to becoming majorities in Mexico or India, would American commentators be outraged if natives of these countries expressed opposition to their displacement? Actually, let’s give a more real world counter-example. Are Americans as incensed about Israeli immigration policies that limit the right of return to Jews by birth? Because the latter is much more militantly racialist and eugenicist than Lord’s suggestion that immigrant stock be limited to roughly 10-20% of the U.S. population.

The irony is that most poor people in the world will in the long run benefit from a prosperous America with high rates of technological innovation (characteristic of the U.S. pre-TGS) that trickles down to them than a stagnant U.S. descending into Third World dystopia.

105 dead serious September 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Whenever you have a chance to model your thinking on the policies of Hitler and Stalin, you just have to do it.

106 msgkings September 21, 2012 at 4:15 pm


Hey lol, I think you need to clarify, you only offer the free contraceptives to poor non-whites, right?

Also I’m a little confused, in another thread you seemed pretty butthurt about how the pill makes it harder for you to find a mate.

107 CBBB September 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm

He’s not interested in non-white women so giving contraceptives to non-whites doesn’t hurt him. It’s all consistent.

108 msgkings September 21, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Don’t be so sure, these racist types often love shagging the dirty ‘other’

109 lords of lies September 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm

“in another thread you seemed pretty butthurt about how the pill makes it harder for you to find a mate.”

me? on the contrary. the pill has been very very good to me. but you do understand the concept that the individual’s best interest sometimes does not mesh with society’s best interest?

“you only offer the free contraceptives to poor non-whites, right?”

where did i write that?

nevermind, narrative in progress.

110 msgkings September 21, 2012 at 5:53 pm

“the pill has been very very good to me”…yes, the two very’s make it clear that you get laid a ton.

And my question about the free contraceptives was an inference I made…it’s part of your plan to reduce racial diversity, right? So poor white ladies need to have more babies and the wogs less. Also you should probably outlaw miscegenation. You’re welcome in advance.

111 mulp September 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm

The issue is obvious if you believe government should serve the corporations, not the people.

Corporations want no responsibility for training the workers they need to increase profits even more: no taxes, no training costs, no cost of golden handcuffs, no need to give equal contract rights to individuals.

What is lost is the self interest ethic of corporations, which requires they rely on government to ensure individuals have money to buy from corporations. Somehow, government must enable the worker earning $20,000 from corporations to pay $30,000 to the corporations.

By bringing all the best educated people from around the world to work in the US for corporations, the corporations are depending on government in other nations finding ways to have uneducated people pay for the goods and services made in the US as if they were earning as much as their emigrant peers in the US.

Rational self interest would keep the educated people in other nations to lift those economies and increase the disposable incomes to allow them to spend some of it on goods made by US corporations, but cheating is highly rewarded for one corporation to act irrationally in its self interest – the short run race to the bottom profits those who are the quickest to be irrational, in the short run.

112 Paul September 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm

If the point of immigration policy were to maximize global utility, and yet there were unalterable limits to the yearly quota, the best policy might well be to bias selection in favor of the poorest people from the poorest countries. Naturally, the more people we allow to move in, the higher the overall utility gains.

113 Corey September 21, 2012 at 6:24 pm

It is strange that such a de facto endorsement of the ability of the state to judge the worthiness of people would be expressed by such an arch-libertarian.

114 freethinker September 22, 2012 at 1:40 am

I think what matters is the immigrants, irrespective of whether they are from door 1 or 2, adopt western cultural values.

115 L. F. File September 22, 2012 at 7:27 am

There must be some connection here to the old William F. Buckley, Jr. Quote “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” Contemporary conservative philosophy would seem to think we are also better served by random selection of technocrats.


116 prior_approval September 22, 2012 at 3:17 pm

‘we are also better served by random selection of technocrats’
Not random – those standing behind door number 1 are precisely the sort of people that would be found on the faculty at Harvard, after all. And that selection is only for the best and brightest, at least according to those within the process.

117 Daniel Lieberman September 24, 2012 at 9:04 am

And door number 2 is where the Black Swans will be found.

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