Transcript: Thom Hartmann asks Matt Welch, why won't American companies lobby for better education for American workers instead of importing them? 13 May '10.

Thom Hartmann: Our quote for the day from Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The school is the last expenditure upon which Americans should be willing to economize.”

And apropos of that, Matt Welch is here with us. He’s the editor in chief of Reason Magazine, Reason.com the website. And Matt, first of all, welcome to the program.

Matt Welch: Thank you very much.

Thom Hartmann: Great to see you and great to have you with us. The H-1B Visa program. We’ve got, there is an industry front group that out’s here, beating the drum for more visas so that high tech companies in particular but also medical service companies and what not can bring in professional highly educated people into the United States.

And you’re saying that we should, I believe, that we should simply allow anybody who wants to work here to come in here and work here, do I have that right?

Matt Welch: Basically yeah. I mean, at this point, for the last several years dating from before our economic downturn we’ve been losing high skilled immigrants. Not just because we have an H-1B choke hold, which is something like 85000 slots that fill up or are applied for on the first day that they’re offered. But because we’re becoming less and less attractive to the best and the brightest of immigrants out there. Our economy is becoming less dynamic, it’s a less interesting place to live.

People from India and China especially who have been profoundly influential in the development of the Silicon Valley. They’ve created one out of two Silicon Valley jobs has been created by an immigrant. They’re going back home. Or they’re staying there. They come here for their higher education, they look around, and even if they have a decent situation here, they’re going home.

So if we create these choke holds, we’re going to continue losing out this very dynamic sector of the population.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. I’m not buying it for a minute, Matt. Not for a minute. What you’re saying is that we should not bother to invest in educating Americans so that they can be sufficiently well qualified to hold these jobs. Or for that matter we shouldn’t bother to hire the, literally, hundreds of thousands of Americans who hold advanced degrees right now in the high tech sector who are looking for work.

And every time I do this segment, we’re live on the air in San Francisco and Los Angeles, all up and down the west coast, I mean, all over the country, but in particular there, where Silicon Valley is and we get calls from people, ‘I’ve got a master’s degree in computer programming, I can’t get a job because my last job paid 90 thousand dollars a year and they can hire somebody from overseas who will come over here and do it for 60.’

Matt Welch: Yeah. I mean a couple of things. One, I mean, if you had a heart surgery, would you want the best doctor, or the most American doctor?

Thom Hartmann: I want the best doctor coming out of the United States. One of the problems that we have is in Denmark not only do they offer free college education all the way up to MD or Ph.D., they even pay students a couple hundred dollars a month for their books and their housing. So those people are well educated and they stay in the country. They’re not importing doctors into Denmark. They’re not importing doctors into France. These countries are educating their own people. Why should we have an economy, why should we have to have an economy based on bringing cheaper labor into the country? It seems insane to me.

Matt Welch: Well one reason is, I presume that you’re a fan of entitlement such as Social Security and Medicare and stuff. We can’t afford that as it is…

Thom Hartmann: Our Social Security and Medicare are nothing compared to those countries I just named.

Matt Welch: If you choke off the supply of young enthusiastic labor we will have nobody left to pay for this stuff. I mean the whole ocean…

Thom Hartmann: Wait a minute are you telling me that somebody is not going to go to college in the United States and become a Ph.D. in computer programming or engineering because they have to pay into Social Security and Medicare?

Matt Welch: No, no, no, what I’m saying is that we rely, as Americans, to pay for, the retired workers in America rely on a strong work force in America to pay for their and into Social Security.

Thom Hartmann: Right, and the same in England and the same in France and the same in Germany and the same in Denmark and the same in Norway, and the same on Costa Rica and…

Matt Welch: Right and all those countries have democratic crisis because they don’t have the money …

Thom Hartmann: No most of those countries are not having a crisis around that particular issue.

Matt Welch: They do have a democratic crisis. There’s a reason why these countries, all of them, have these sort of hysterical pro birth rate policies because they’re afraid that they don’t have a replacement age population. We do, we have babies, and we also have immigrants, most importantly. And they have always been the most dynamic sector of our economy. We’re a nation of immigrants and always have been. They create jobs, they create entrepreneurial situations, and look if your friend…

Thom Hartmann: So you’re telling me that because somebody comes here from some other country they’re more likely to create a job than somebody who’s born here. And therefore we should…

Matt Welch: Yes, absolutely. There’s no doubt about it. Every single study that has been done on that issue, the answer is not just yes but hell yes.

Thom Hartmann: So let’s say, just to hell with America, to hell with American workers. They can all..

Matt Welch: No I’m not saying to hell with America. We are a magnet.

Thom Hartmann: They can all live on the friggin’ streets, we don’t give a damn, all we need to do is provide them with public toilets and public showers for their, and maybe a little homeless village for them…

Matt Welch: Absolutely not.

Thom Hartmann: And we’re going to bring in all the doctors and all the engineers from India.

Matt Welch: Absolutely not. America has always been enriched by immigrants. I don’t believe that because I was born in this country that I am entitled to build a big wall on the Mexican border and tell everybody you can’t come here and create a job because you’re not American. Look if we had drawn up the gates in a Lou Dobbs style fashion 40 years ago we would still have 70 million jobs in this country.

Thom Hartmann: Nobody is advocating the insanity of putting walls around…

Matt Welch: You are advocating that! By saying that we’re going to block off workers, that’s exactly what you’re saying.

Thom Hartmann: What I am suggesting Matt is that we do the exact same thing that… The countries that you’re talking about do the same thing. I went through that personally, I doubt that you’ve ever done this. I personally went through the process of applying for a work visa to live in Germany for one year and work there. I personally went through the process of applying for a work visa.

Matt Welch: I lived in Europe for 8 years. I married an immigrant. I am not talking out of ignorance here.

Thom Hartmann: So you’ve been through the process in another country, a fully developed country…

Matt Welch: I’ve been an illegal alien in another country.

Thom Hartmann: …like I did in Australia where it took me 3 months to get a work visa so that I could give one lecture for which I was paid ten thousand dollars.

Matt Welch: Did you feel pretty good about that? Did you think that was an equitable and just situation?

Thom Hartmann: Took three months to fill out the paperwork. My point is that other countries protect their work forces. Why shouldn’t we?

Matt Welch: Because we’re a dynamic country.

Thom Hartmann: Because we don’t give a damn about our work force. Because we only want the corporations to make the most money.

Matt Welch: Absolutely not. Do you want Albert Pujols to not play first base for the St. Louis Cardinals? You want to bring back Boog Powell? No we’ve always attracted the best and the brightest. They come here because we have the best higher education system…

Thom Hartmann: No. Matt, here’s the bottom line for me. If you want the American economy to grow, the American economy and any economy, grows based on wages. Wages is the sole driver. Ask any economist, or most economists, wages are the sole driver on account of they create demand.

Matt Welch: Surprisingly there’s a dispute about that.

Thom Hartmann: Wages create demand. People buy things. Particularly working people who spend virtually all of their wages. They buy things. That creates demand for goods and services which are then met by entrepreneurs and businesses. And so if you want to drive up demand, if you want to stimulate and build an economy, you need to increase wages. And the process that you’re advocating of driving down wages as Alan Greenspan advocated, you know, where he said ‘by keeping out skilled workers we’re actually giving a government subsidy to the American skilled workers.’ Well that’s right! And that’s why every country in the world does it so that they can have a vibrant economy.

Matt Welch: Every country in the world has been trying to create their own Silicon Valley for 15 or 20 years.

Thom Hartmann: With their own people.

Matt Welch: With their own people. And they failed.

Thom Hartmann: And India’s and Chinas are doing very well, thank you very much. Ireland is doing very well with their…

Matt Welch: They’re doing well now because they have a much wider dynamic economies and because they’re welcoming the type of people that we are now stupidly trying to discourage from staying or coming here.

Thom Hartmann: So what do you say to an American who says I’ve got 100 thousand dollars in college debt, and you know I’ve got my master’s degree in computer science or computer programming and I’m just not willing to work for Microsoft, well I don’t want to name a company name. For some high tech company for the 40 or 50 or 60 thousand bucks that they can hire an Indian who would only make $20,000 in India for, I’d really would like to make 80 or 90 thousand, nobody will pay me.

Matt Welch: You know, I’ve made more than 40 thousand dollars very few years of my life.

Thom Hartmann: You’re not from India Matt.

Matt Welch: But I would also say go into aerospace, go into aerospace. They’re desperate for Americans to work in aerospace. My father’s worked there for 45 years. They don’t want to hire…

Thom Hartmann: So that’s the clue, we all become rocket scientists. Matt Welch, Reason.org. Matt, thanks for the conversation.

Matt Welch: Thanks for having me.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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