Saturday, May 27, 2006
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Why limit the free trade rule to economists?
I'll believe that this is all about altruism when I see an open letter from economists demanding that we scrap the complicated H1B visa system and instead allow unrestricted immigration of foreign college professors without all these requirements about prevailing wages, work conditions, non-displacement, good-faith recruitment of natives, etc. Obviously, there are many foreign born professors in the United States, but there could be many more, wages for academics could be lower, and college tuitions could be significantly lower. If there's really no difference between "us" and "them" economists should be leading the charge to disassemble the system of employment protections they enjoy.To which Brad DeLong replies:
I'll pick up the gauntlet:Greg Mankiw is on board as well.
Yglesias wanted only economists to respond, but both Alex's letter and Brad's rule applied to other academics as well. So I'm in too. Bring it on!!
UPDATE: Comments on this thread and others devoted to this topic suggest that tenure needs to be abolished for this to work properly. There is an intuitive logic to this, since this is all about increasing flexibility in labor markets. That said, I find this connection intriguing, since a) tenure is not a government-imposed restriction on the academic marketplace; and b) the commenters seem to assume that if tenure were abolished as a norm it would disappear from the face of the earth.
In actuality, ceteris paribus, the elimination of tenure could just as easily raise faculty salaries as lower them. Furthermore, I suspect that the institution of tenure would be replaced by an..... institution that looks an awful lot like tenure. Universities will still compete after top talent, and one of the ways to keep such talent would be to lock them in with long-term contracts. This institution would probably have a more limited domain than what exists now, but it would exist.posted by Dan on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM
"I hereby call on all governments to allow free mobility of university professors. All universities and other institutions of higher education should be allowed to hire whoever they want to reside, teach, and do research at their universities, without let or hindrance by any government whatsoever."
Ahem, you demand universities' allowance "to hire" not allowance "to fire".posted by: SumSmith on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
I agree. Undergraduates at research universities are not exposed to nearly enough lecturers and TAs with lousy English and thick accents.
Of course that does and should have nothing to do with immigration law. And of course the above may sound xenophobic. But it is something I have witnessed many times, and it is one situation in which a language divide really lowers the value of the product for the people consuming it -- those who pay tuition and are supposedly benefiting from the lower wages/costs.posted by: jim on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
Somehow I think this is unlikely. And of course, just like ethnic networks in real life, there are academic networks that get protogées and friends' protegées hired. Then tenure would have to be dismantled. The we might be approaching something like a free market --although the very university system, with its massive direct and indirect government subsidies, gives one pause. Nevertheless, Brad DeLong's call is a breath of fresh air.posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
What a dimwitted letter that was - the one you signed up to. All the cliches about economists -that they think about everything in terms of economics- are confirmed by it. What about the cultural impact of mass immigration? What about the need for legal immigration, to maintain respect for the rule of law? What about the draining of tax payer resources by illegal immigrants (hidden cost of their 'cheap' labor)?
I'm sorry, but I expect much better from a UChicago professor.posted by: Rule of law on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
I hereby call on all governments to allow free mobility of university professors.
Ah, the world wide loony bin.
These days I'm thinking that tenure should be abolished at public universities. That would open slots for young people and prod that fraction of the aging faculty who have lost interest to put more effort into looking for work they really enjoy.posted by: chuck on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
There is of course something similar happening already, Universities admit foreign grad students in order to get the higher fees, to avoid paying TA's a decent wage and so on. The power of Universities to limit the pool of potential professors would have to be dismanted. We could also do that for lawyers -- every law school open to everybody in the world.posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
I used to be a chef. Got out of the business because
So I say bring it on. Let loose those dogs onto the primrose paths of academia and lets see how you deal with walking in shit.posted by: gimly on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
Gimly's nailed it. Economic theory all works wonderfully on paper, and overall wealthy is supposed to increase. And presumably in the long run it does, but in the short term those transitions whereby cheap labor comes in, takes your job and shake your life's foundations can really hurt.
I support having economists get a sense of the real world.posted by: St. James the Lesser on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
This only works if you get rid of tenure. Freedom to hire and fire might be the best thing to happen to academia in a long time.posted by: bob on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
Maybe Dan will propose something modelled on DeLong's declaration at his first meeting of the Tufts academic senate. Heck, maybe DeLong will officially propose it wherever he is at. Video it please -- should be quite a reaction.posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
Yup, agreed that tenure has to go in order for this to be legitimate. It's too easy to be confident in free markets and your own value in that context when you've got nothing to lose.
I work in the private sector in Asia and compete against locals on low wages on a daily basis. It's a tough environment, but I still get work. Competition has many more factors than just the price tag - competence, quality of work, etc are key to staying relevant. I'm pretty tired of Americans whining about cheaper labor in their borders. Deal with it - increase your skills, work harder and prove yourself.
That undergrad degree you got in the 70s or the MBA from the 80s is out of date. To professors, you can only get so much traction from the PhD you earned and research you did decades ago - yes, your students can tell that your curriculum is rehashed, but they can't do anything about it because you've got tenure.
It's tough to justify your value on a daily basis in a highly competitive environment, but it's a growing reality in which professionals now feel the daily pressure felt for decades by hourly workers, migrant workers, etc. It speaks to the commoditization of many professional functions which we always thought were safe.posted by: TN on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
Bring it on?
Yeah, you're a tough guy with tenure. Let's see if you're really not hypocritical, Dan. Amend your post with an update recommending abolishing the tenure system.
Otherwise, you are be hypocritical and your post is a joke.posted by: Rick Latshaw on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
I'm not Dan, and (a) I don't have tenure and (b) don't even have a job that makes me eligible for tenure, but I agree with him 100%. Bring on the foreigners who think they can do my job better than me.posted by: Chris Lawrence on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
What do you call someone who has lifetime job guarantee at a comfortable salary calling for everyone else to compete in a cutthroat global market? Mmm, could it be... hypocrite?posted by: OpenBorderMan on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
My impression from experience with several faculties is that faculty in fields such as economics, finance, corporate strategy, marketing, and operations research, among others, are already competing with immigrants, and have been doing so for decades. It appears to have been relatively easy to get visas for academics. Any good department in the above fields will have lots of Indians, and now some Chinese, Russians, and others.
The only reason there are not more is the slow turnover due to tenure. However, I believe that tenure is important to the health of academia, and I say this as someone who tried twice but never got the hang of crossing the tenure barrier. Tenure frees senior faculty to hire people that are smarter than themselves without having to be altruistic.posted by: Acad Ronin on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
In actuality, ceteris paribus, the elimination of tenure could just as easily raise faculty salaries as lower them.
The data you provided is not relevant. The abstract suggests that removing tenure can cause higher salaries in an environment where competing institutions are still offering tenure. That data obviously is irrelevant if all places abolish tenure.
...institution that looks an awful lot like tenure. Universities will still compete after top talent, and one of the ways to keep such talent would be to lock them in with long-term contracts.
Sounds sorta like professional baseball and football. No doubt the universities could institute something like the draft, trading lower picks for future top draft choices, thus insuring that no team^W institution would have a monopoly on talent. So, who gets to represent the players? Would there be minor leagues? Future professors could start at two year colleges, move up to four year schools, and finally land at research institutions if they were good enough. Salary caps would help keep the smaller schools competitive with places like Harvard that have large endowments. Sounds like a plan.posted by: chuck on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
I wonder how rank and file TAs would feel about this? I'm sure high end profs would be fine. Every academic other than the superstars would find jobs about like the ones most TAs have now....sub minimum wages no benefits and a huge tuition bill to boot.
The idea that elimination of tenure would somehow raise prof salaries is just silly. The world labor market is not about quality; it's about price. Retrict the supply of something and the price goes up. Remove the restriction and the price goes down. Sure a prof's role in society is more important than an auto worker's yadda yadda yadda. But that's all "academic". The US is already axperiencing a brain drain. As it accelerates, the demand for profs will decline and so will salaries.posted by: OpenBorderMan on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
There's at least one study (for which I cannot right now find a reference) suggesting that tenure reduces salaries--because the "lifetime" contract of tenure has a money value. What I would expect from an end to tenure is (a) higher average salaries and (b) substantially increased variation in salaries.posted by: Donald A. Coffin on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
A salary cap for professors? Are you insane? Shouldn't we want Harvard and etc. to pay their best professors their market worth?
The difference between the market for football players and college professors is that football players play a game which ideally is competitive (i.e., the teams they play for are approximately equally matched) and therefore entertaining. A Harvard professor does not need similarly talented professors at a multitude of second-rate insitutions to do his research. In fact, if he were to collaborate, it would be easier if his collaborators were also at Harvard.
As to the topic, it's almost a moot point. If you're a talented academic, you can get a visa, though maybe not if you're an Iranian studying nuclear physics. The reason we don't see even more academics in US institutions is because (from my experience in biological sciences) there are relatively few institutions abroad which can compete with ours. American PhD's and post-docs are better trained, and they get the better jobs. That's why the best Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, etc., want to come here for graduate school. If they don't make it to the US by then, their job battle just got a lot harder.posted by: Nemo on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
I'm pretty tired of Americans whining about cheaper labor in their borders. Deal with it - increase your skills, work harder and prove yourself.
TN, please tell us which country in Asia has anything close to an open immigration policy -- even anything like a European immigration policy. Singapoore --nope. Thailand --no way. Japan, which 'suffers' from a shrinking and aging population. 200,000 immigrants in a population of 100 million. So while you may be competing, the fact is that immigrants in Asian countries are few and far between.posted by: Mitchell Young on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
TN, please tell us which country in Asia has anything close to an open immigration policy
Mitchell - I think you may have a flawed assumption that the US has an open immigration policy. Not true. Since the discussion is about labour, I assume when you say 'open immigration' you're talking about labour mobility in the form of work permits, etc (like the notorious H1B in the US).
Getting a work permit in nearly any country is just a series hoops that are more or less difficult depending on your experience with the process as well as (in many countries) the company you work for, your level of education (perhaps even the university you attended), income, skills you bring to the economy, number of people in the country to fill your job, etc. It's actually relatively simple to get work permits in several Asian countries and easier than some places in the West. There are, of course, exceptions; Japan may be one - I don't know because I've never lived or worked there.posted by: TN on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
You are just completely wrong here.
The U.S. has had the most open immigration policy of all first-world countries. Period.posted by: Rick Latshaw on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
Interesting aritcle in the this weeks Economist about California and New York leading the nation in high poverty rates. The artilcle links it to "massive immigration of unskilled labor".
It sounds like you could set up professorships like free agency in baseball. They could start in the minor leagues (small colleges) and work their way up to the majors (Ivy League)! It would be better, however, because you wouldn't have a reserve system.posted by: David Pinto on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
Hey, why stop at professors? If we eliminate H-1B visas for academics, why not just scrap regulating altogether the free-flow of labor across national borders? We practically have it now, at least at the entry level -- the landscaping, hospitality, and construction industries, etc.posted by: Donald Douglas on 05.27.06 at 11:58 AM [permalink]
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