The Technical Skills Tariff

“And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.” – Frederic Bastiat, The Law

About six weeks ago I stopped drinking soda. I’ve dropped 10 pounds in that time and have had far fewer problems with acid reflux. (I wasn’t obese before, but 6’3″ 200lbs feels better than 6’3″ 210lbs.) Before that I was a self-proclaimed soda aficionado, and I had a significant preference for soda made with real sugar – cane sugar – not high fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately, most soda in the US is made with corn syrup.

Beyond the taste benefits, cane sugar is both cheaper to produce and has fewer health detriments than corn syrup. Given that it is preferable in every way (taste, cost, health), one might wonder why we use corn syrup at all. The answer is policy. The “Sugar Program” limits the amount of foreign sugar that can be imported, puts a floor under the price of sugar in the US, and provides loans to domestic sugar producers. Why? Because if the program didn’t exist, US sugar producers would go out of business. The government has decided that this is not a good outcome, and thus we have the sugar program.

When it comes to the economics of free trade the situation is quite frustrating. I, a presumably free citizen of the US, want to make a trade with a foreign sugar cane grower. I’ll trade some dollars (simply an expression of stored value from my previous production) for some of his production. I’m better off (as I see it), he’s better off (as he sees it) – end of story, right? Wrong.

Somehow, my neighbors have decided that we’re all better off (collectively?) if I am not allowed to trade with that foreign sugar producer. In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government is the people – and the people are my neighbors – and they have decided to  not allow me to engage in free trade with some poor Uruguayan who makes sugar.

The economic argument here is a flat-out failure. Further, any moralistic argument falls flat as well. In asking me to pay more to an American sugar producer I’m being told that it is right for me to pay extra, because the exchange partner is also a citizen. Or, put another way, I’m being told to pay market price and give some extra money to the American simply because he’s an American. This is silly.

(For the record, I hold a similar policy with Christians bookstores. I own plenty of Christian books – but I don’t buy them a Christian bookstores. Why? Because they’re cheaper on Amazon. “But you should support Christian businesses!” Why? That argument amounts to paying the Amazon price for a book and then giving the overage to the store owner because he’s a Christian. I can assure you, when I give money away to Christians, I generally do not choose wealthy bookstore owners, but rather poor indigent children in the third world.)

The Technical Skills Tariff …

A good friend passed along an article the other day regarding the nonexistent “lack” of skilled workers. The article I have is from Breitbart (a well-meaning, well-researched, yet otherwise conspiracy theorist though not quite tinfoil hat outfit). The article attacks the standard talking point that we need a large number of skilled-worker visas because we have a lack of skilled-worker citizenry to fill the jobs.

The gist is simply this: there is no innate shortage of “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) workers in the US. Thus, the constant harangue from both the legislature and the “pro-business” lobby that we have a massive shortfall is utter nonsense.

Now, I work in a technical field. In fact, I work in an “unbiased arbiter” field – people from the government pay me to (a) vet the technical merits of various proposals and (b) not take sides. That’s my job. Quite often this leads me to a debunking role. I pick apart proposals and claims and cry foul when indeed proposals and claims run afoul of a sound technical basis. (Again, that’s my job … and I’m actually pretty good at it.)

Thus, I am sympathetic with the first argument made in the Breitbart article. Governments and pro-business groups have used this “we have a STEM shortage” argument to bring in far more STEM workers than we actually need for years. In the process, they have damaged the employment outlook and compensation for citizen STEM workers (a group that includes me!). And sometimes we just have to call people out on their bad arguments (again, that’s my job … sometimes). So “good-on-you” Breitbart. It’s a junk argument and it needs to be abandoned by the powers that be.

And yet, there is a free trade argument in here as well that Breitbart completely misses. There is a technical company somewhere in America who wants to procure STEM services. There is a poor man in India (randomly chosen country for the sake of example) who can provide those services and is willing to do so for a paltry some (by American standards). Why shouldn’t they be able to get together and make a free trade? Why should the neighbors of the American businessman decide that we are all better off if he pays market price for STEM services and then gives a significant overage to somebody simple because they are a citizen of the US?

Now, I fully recognize that I, as a STEM worker, would benefit if all foreign STEM visas were curtailed immediately. I’d make more money. (And, having four kids, I can always stand to make more money.) But I can’t get away from the fact that such an outcome stands in stark contrast to my commitment to freedom. So far as I can tell it is the only form of human governance that innately acknowledges the supremacy of God and the equality of man.

So I say end the technical skills tariff – hand out as many STEM visas as you can. Of course, I also say end the non-technical skills tariff while you’re at it. Let’s take all the Mexicans (or other Latin and South Americans) who want to work here and issue them visas today. While we’re at it, let’s eliminate the minimum wage (free trade is free trade). Anybody want to guess how long the United Auto Workers union would last? I’ll tell you this, your next new car would be a lot less expensive.

While we’re at it, let’s end the “legitimate store of value tariff” placed on dollar-denominated earnings by the Federal Government and the Federal Reserve Bank. The banking cabal would falter overnight in the face of a free market.

Americans have a tendency to think they want freedom, to think that they actually support freedom. And yet what we really support is policies that provide the most benefit to us. Such policies almost always run counter to freedom. In a free country, government policies don’t directly benefit anybody at the expense of another.

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