9 March 2006

Conservatives embrace the idea of eliminating the American middle class and replacing it with a Dickensian "working poor" class

And are working so hard to use illegal immigrant labor as the lever to bring this about.
As the '60's and '70's showed - during the height of the American middle class's economic and political power - a strong middle class will challenge corporate power and assert itself economically and politically. This represents a very real threat to conservative ruling elites. "The people" may even suggest that the most elite of the elites should pay stiffer taxes on the top end of their income, so that money can be used to provide the economically most disadvantaged with an opportunity to become socially and economically mobile. It would reduce the most massive of the wealth and the power of the most elite of our conservative elites.

Offshoring, union-busting, and nurturing a huge population of illegal workers (while pretending to be frantic about it and bleating about building fences, fielding vigilantes, or offering "amnesty") are the core ways to destroy an economic middle class, thus ensuring the ongoing political power of the conservative elite takeover that began with the so-called "Reagan revolution" and continues to this day.

This is why conservatives who complain about illegal immigration in front of the cameras won't lift a finger in the halls of congress to pass legislation that would put employers of illegals into jail. (They may support "tough fines," just so long as they're high enough to sound like a lot of money to the average working stiff but low enough to be a "cost of business" for a corporation that gets caught.)

If Congress were to pass a law that said, quite simply, that the CEO of any business that was caught employing illegal immigrants went to jail for a year - no exceptions - then within a month there would be ten million (more or less) people lined up at the Mexican border trying to get out of the United States. The US unemployment rate would drop close to zero, and wages would begin to rise. The American middle class would begin to return to viability, as would the union movement in this nation.

This problematic political outlook on immigration is not just confined to "conservatives" only. Liberals have also played the immigration card, when politically expedient, or to cast their opponents as backward in disingenuous fashion, all the while all too eager in supporting the status quo.

2 March 2006

Why does anyone think science is a good job?

Such media annointed luminaries like Thomas Friedman have received a great deal of attention for their cries that America needs more education, more math, more science. There's never any discussion on the economic factors that push Americans away from science. Though this article on Women in Science, spurred by recent news of Harvard president Larry Summers resignation, captures precisely the predicament of the state of engineers and scientists in America.
He claimed to be giving a comprehensive list of reasons why there weren't more women reaching the top jobs in the sciences. Yet Summers, an economist, left one out: Adjusted for IQ and working hours, jobs in science are the lowest paid in the United States.

University salaries are not that much lower than they were in the 1970s, but all the other smart people in the U.S. have gotten so rich that faculty and postdoc salaries seem lower. Any resource that is scarce, such as real estate, is snapped up by society's economic winners. A science researcher at Harvard now earns an annual salary that is only 1/50th the price of a family-sized house in Cambridge, a fact that may not be lost on an intelligent female Harvard undergraduate choosing a career.

Science can be fun, but considered as a career, science suffers by comparison to the professions and the business world.

And for whom does a science career make sense for?

The picture so far is pretty bleak. The American scientist earns less than an airplane mechanic, has less job security than a drummer in a boy band, and works longer hours than a Bolivian silver miner. Does this make sense as a career for anyone? Absolutely! Just get out your atlas.

Imagine that you are a smart, but impoverished, young person in China. Your high IQ and hard work got you into one of the best undergraduate programs in China. The $1800 per month graduate stipend at University of Nebraska or University of Wisconsin will afford you a much higher standard of living than any job you could hope for in China. The desperate need for graduate student labor and lack of Americans who are interested in PhD programs in science and engineering means that you'll have no trouble getting a visa. When you finish your degree, a small amount of paperwork will suffice to ensure your continued place in the legal American work force. Science may be one of the lowest paid fields for high IQ people in the U.S., but it pays a lot better than most jobs in China or India.

Personally, I can also relate to these points. But I continue to work in computer science because it's what I love to do. I've recently accepted a position that pays less than half of what I was making, and a fraction of what I could earn if I was willing to travel around the country for gigs. But I like being home with family, getting involved in my community, and serving in an organization focused on saving souls rather than raking in fat profits. Nothing wrong with the profit motive, mind you, just that the state of affairs for careers in my chosen field is a complete mess. Outsourcing, offshoring, merger consolidations and continued erosion of knowledgeable leadership have turned what was once a joy for me into a thorny pursuit.