President Obama on Monday unveiled a $100 million grant program as part of a new initiative that he said was critical to ensuring the U.S. remains a global economic powerhouse. Obama called for plans to help thousands of Americans “fill the new jobs of this new century” by using nontraditional courses to turn them into top-level coders, programmers and other technology workers. “If we’re not producing enough tech workers, over time that’s going to threaten our leadership in global innovation, which is the bread and butter of the 21st Century economy,” the president said in remarks at a Washington conference of the National League of Cities.
This suggests a failure in existing laws, which in turn spurs liberals to want to spend more money.
First, we are spending millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars on student aid for four-year schools that apparently are not preparing young people for today’s workforce. Higher education reform, which requires transparency about costs and workplace trends, would be in order. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has suggested reforms in higher ed and student loans that emphasize practical training, aid for programs other than four-year schools and required disclosure of detailed information on the cost and “return” of various majors. (Citing a Pew study, he has argued that “the gap between college graduates and non-college graduates on an income basis is as wide as it’s ever been. We can close that gap, but we have got to make higher education more affordable, more flexible, and more available.”) We’ve spent gobs of money to load up students with debt while our 21st-century economy lacks trained workers. Democrats naturally want to create another problem and spend more money; a reform agenda is cheaper, would stem the inflation in college tuition (now in effect subsidized by taxpayers) and could address problems such as unemployment (including among those who have given up looking for work) and wage stagnation.
Second and most important, this is a flashing red light telling us our immigration system is broken. “We don’t need to prove there’s a national ‘shortage’ of skilled workers in order to benefit from liberalized immigration,” says Cato Institute immigration expert Alex Nowrasteh. “There is market demand for skilled workers in the United States — that is enough of a justification for liberalizing immigration.” This does not mean we shouldn’t be training U.S. workers, but for the foreseeable future we are going to have a shortage in key, high-skill categories. Without people to fill those jobs, American firms lose competitiveness, forgo expansion and don’t hire as many native-born workers to fill lower-level jobs created by higher-skilled workers and entrepreneurs. This is precisely why Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and others are proposing to expand H-1B visas. In January, the Wall Street Journal reported:
The first bill, introduced Tuesday by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and four others, would increase the number of high-skilled visas available each year to as many as 195,000 from the current cap of 65,000 and otherwise allow for more legal immigration to the U.S. They call the measure the Immigration Innovation Act, or I-Squared Act.
A second measure, backed by Sens. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.), Mark Warner (D., Va.) and four others would create an “entrepreneur’s visa” to allow people who want to start companies to stay in the country. Both measures would create new visa or green-card opportunities for foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math—something President Barack Obama supports as well.
Those reflexively opposed to immigration reform — quite apart from illegal immigration — have their heads in the sand. What would they rather have: a market solution (increasing availability of labor) or big-government spending? Or would they consign the United States to slower growth and less innovation, as if jobs and wealth would not flow to international competitors?
Liberals historically have wanted to increase government whatever the problem. For conservatives, the answer — whatever the economic question — for too long has been simply to cut marginal tax rates and/or government spending. Immigration and higher education demand energetic but limited government reforms. Unfortunately, the GOP House has become snared in the fight over executive orders and convulsed by anti-immigration rhetoric. Perhaps addressing such problems with conservative reforms would be a nice change of pace. And any Republican running in 2016 had better be able to articulate an agenda that is more than recycled 1980s dogma.