Tamny’s Defense of Labor Mobility Needs an Occam’s Razor

Wikipedia has a nice discussion of Occam’s razor. John Tamny would have had a decent op-ed if he had applied it. Since I’m usually quite critical of Tamny’s writings, let me start with where we agree:

Workers are in the end capital, and along the lines of the pin factory Adam Smith described in the Wealth of Nations, an increase in the number of skilled workers will increase output, and make all of us wealthier in the end. Notably, some in favor of increasing H1-B caps engage in zero-sum thinking of a different kind. Their view is that if we refuse skilled foreign workers, we’ll fall behind countries such as China and India, which already possess high numbers of scientists and engineers. The flaw here is in the assumption that the U.S. economy is a closed one, and that innovations in other countries will make us less well off at home. If this were true, California and New York, not to mention Europe and the rest of the world, would have been impoverished for the fact that Microsoft was founded in Seattle. More realistically, Microsoft’s innovations made workers around the world more productive. Economic advances, be they scientific or technological, are almost by definition worldwide advances to the extent that countries keep their markets open and free. If a cure for cancer is found in India, we’ll all be better off. Country origin, in a free global market, is irrelevant.

Agreed! But here is where I’d apply Occam’s razor:

The H1-B program thus should not be expanded with nationalistic concerns in mind, but for the simple fact that the U.S. remains the single best place for entrepreneurs to achieve their goals. The U.S. is a magnet for capital, perhaps because of the enlightened thinking of the average American.

Whether this statement is true or not – it is also irrelevant to the case Tamny is making. Consider, for example, the life science sector where R&D is being done not just in the United States, but also in Canada, Europe, and Japan. I have no reason to believe American scientists are better at this type of R&D than scientists in other nations. And quite frankly, I don’t care. If a Canadian or Japanese scientist finds a cure of the common cold, I can buy that cure in the global market place. And if a scientist needs government funding for stem cell research, he’s more likely to find that funding abroad than in George Bush’s America.