Tiger Cub Bites Back

The first post I ever made to this blog involved the Tiger Mom (TM) philosophy, which I consider counterproductive even with regard to the TMs’ goals. Well, in the case of Chinese foreign student Shuping Yang, her TM must now think the word counterproductive is a tragic understatement, for Ms. Yang recently delivered a commencement address at the University of Maryland in which she excoriated the Chinese government for lack of freedom of speech, allowing egregious pollution and so on. “If only I had not allowed her to major in psychology and theater,” her TM must be thinking.

Some of Yang’s fellow Chinese foreign students are livid for her public condemnation of the Homeland. But while some of that is likely due to pressure from the Chinese government, put yourself in their shoes. If you were studying in China and a fellow American student there were to viciously trash the U.S., how would you feel? Only the most tolerant Americans — or the most leftist — would be fully OK with that. And in the case of students from China, who’ve been schooled since age 4 that the Evil West has been persecuting China for 175 years, that goes double.

Over the years, I’ve refused to take sides on China, criticizing the government on some aspects but criticizing the critics on others. Back in the early 1990s, when Congress was considering revoking normal trade status (Most Favored Nation, MFN) from China, I pointed out the hypocrisy. After all, even the U.S. critics admitted that most people in China wanted MFN, so wouldn’t it be a tad hypocritical for Congress to take action against the popular will in China in the name of “democracy”?

On the other hand, I’ve always stated that the Chinese government is sbooting itself in the foot by restricting freedom of speech. So I sympathize with Ms. Yang (and have experienced the pollution problems, though things are improving). But what she doesn’t know is that a week from now, almost none of the people she is trying to reach in the U.S. will remember her. Meanwhile she will have burned her bridges with many people in China, even ones who agree with her. Very sad, a lose-lose situation.

Yale Incident Is About Much More Than Dean Chu

In case you missed it, the big news at Yale University is that the school has suspended Dean June Chu for remarks she made (of all places) on Yelp. Great fodder for the headline writers, such as “Yale dean once championed cultural sensitivity. Then she called people ‘white trash’ on Yelp” and the more succinct “Yale dean loves diversity except ‘white trash’.” In her pontifications on Yelp, Chu managed to, if you will, trash poorly educated whites (must mean lesser education than hers) and inner city blacks.

Yes, of course, dumb, dumb, dumb, and disgusting. However, the punishment was maybe a little harsh, in the sense of being hypocritical.

I would submit that such elitist attitudes are commonplace in elite universities. Chu’s problem was that she was stupid enough to make her remarks publicly (not even using a pseudonym on Yelp). There is so much disdain for the common people. You may recall MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of Obamacare, who said that Obama was able to enact the policy by taking advantage of the “stupid American voters” who didn’t understand it. In my view Obamacare was a needed first step, but Gruber’s execrable attitude, likely common in that administration, speaks volumes.

According to Eileen Pollack’s book about her undergrad years at Yale, only “high class” people would be appointed as deans, meaning tall, patrician, good-looking men. Chu’s appointment as dean may show that Yale has made progress (and maybe shows that Yale’s hiring of her was more for “diversity” than for character), but her remarks reflect the chi-chi circles she moves in there in New Haven.

Interestingly, Chu’s PhD in sociology is from my own institution, the University of California, Davis. I claim that Chu didn’t pick up her elitist attitudes at Davis, particularly in the Sociology Department. According to a colleague there, that faculty is populated mainly by people with working class roots, and who are proud of their background. No, Chu largely acquired these attitudes from Yale, I believe.

I’ve stated many times here that the biggest problem in DC is the total lack of connections of Hill dwellers — both politicians and the press corps that covers them — with the common people, what is termed the laobaixing (Old Hundred Surnames) in China. The pols and journalists are people who have never experienced an extended period of involuntary unemployment, for instance, or the fact that most Americans could not come up with $400 cash if an emergency were to arise. And a disproportionate number of those pols and reporters come from the elite universities.

And then those same clueless people are shocked that Trump won the election (I was not), and couldn’t figure out why the plebian Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money (literally) in the primaries.  The elite were perplexed (even in tears), unaware for instance that many former Obama voters went for Trump.  The Democratic post mortem found that Clinton, she of the Wall Street largesse, was viewed as the consummate elitist, dismissing commoners as “deplorables.” And need I remind you that Clinton is a graduate of Yale Law School?

None of this exonerates Dean June Chu. But really, she is a scapegoat. I wonder how many of Chu’s critics can cast the first stone.

Diversity vs. Divergence

I have often said that I strongly support immigration for the diversity it adds to the nation. Some, however, counter that once diversity passes some critical mass level, we lose our sense of national unity. This article from the Financial Express, an Indian publication, raises questions in that regard. (As many readers of this blog know, there is often better coverage of H-1B issues in the Indian press than is the case in the U.S.)

The article, headlined “H1B visa: US Congresswoman warns Trump administration against hasty changes,” reports the thoughts on H-1B of Rep. Pramila Jayapal of the Seattle area, herself an Indian immigrant. While I think immigrants’ keeping ties to their home countries is highly desirable, a public servant has responsibility to put the welfare of her fellow Americans as top priority. Unfortunately, Jayapal seems to be skating rather near the boundary in this, in spite of her disclaimer to the contrary (here and below, boldface emphasis added):

She is also hopeful that the Trump administration will continue to prioritise India though there are concerns about the growing process between the US and China and US and Russia but she feels that India “should be right in there”…

Stating that every country has to make sure that it is taking care of its workers, Jayapal, however, said that the H1-B visa programme “is incredibly valuable”. She said that there has been some abuse of H1-B visas and that needed to be addressed.

“But I really do believe that there is a lot of bipartisan support for continuing the H1-B visa programme, perhaps with come changes,” [says] the Chennai-born former pro-immigration advocacy activist.

Stating that she is on the [House] immigration sub-committee that is chaired by Jim Sensenbrenner (Republican, Wisconsin), who is also a part of the visiting delegation, she said: “He (Sensenbrenner) raised the issue of H1-Bs in an internal meeting and you know, I think again that there is a lot of support for an H1-B programme that provides opportunities for Indians to come to the United States, provides opportunities for them to stay and also benefits India and Indian companies.”

Regarding India-US ties following the transition from the Democrats to the Republicans in the White House, the Congresswoman said she hoped that the Trump administration would continue to prioritise India.

Asked about Trump’s policies on South Asia and Indian Americans, she said that there are now five Indian-origin members in the US Congress — Senator Kamala Harris and Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Ami Bera, apart from her.

A few weeks ago I reported here on the protests by UC San Diego students from China over the university’s decision to have the Dalai Lama give the commencement address. The UCSD Chancellor, by the way, is also an Indian immigrant. (See a recent New York Times piece on other such actions by Chinese students.) Yet many of those students from China will also eventually become immigrants in the U.S. So, not only do we have immigrants vociferously supporting the policies of their home countries, but also we are now seeing clashes in that regard between competing immigrant groups.

Jayapal says, in the above article,

Asked about China’s criticism of the Congressional delegation’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, she said that “we know that China would not be happy”.

“It has not changed our resolve to really make sure that we address the issue of an autonomous Tibet and the United States I think in a bipartisan way continues to be deeply committed to speaking for autonomy for Tibet and the ability to practise their religion and their culture and their philosophies freely.”

What was also interesting about that UCSD protest is that the Chinese students were portraying the invitation of the Dalai Lama as anti-diversity, in that it was counter to Chinese culture. Of course that was incorrect — the students were raising a political issue, not a cultural one — but Jayapal also seems to have made student-protest-like advocacy of diversity the centerpiece of her view of who her constituents are. Here is an excerpt from a January 20 article in the International Examiner, an Asian-American activist publication:

Early in January, Pramila Jayapal—Seattle’s newly-elected Congressional representative—decided she wouldn’t attend Donald Trump’s inauguration, and would instead meet with immigrants and immigrant advocates in her district. “I recognize that President-elect Trump will be sworn in and he will be the president of this country, whether we like it or not,” she wrote in a January 15 press release. “But I believe my first responsibility is to listen to my constituents and to be with them, through the darkest of times.”

To be sure, I have not seen statements like this from the other Americans in Congress of Indian background whom she mentions above, nor do I expect to. Recent statements by newly-elected Rep. Ro Khanna of Silicon Valley read pretty much like those of any other American politician. That’s unfortunate — Khanna basically takes the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad view — but there is nothing there like Jayapal, whose rhetoric is troubling.

It happens that Seattle is the site of considerable union activity over the years promoting a tightening of H-1B law. I hope Rep. Jayapal will meet with them and take their concerns seriously.

Update: After I first posted this, a reader who described herself as Latina commented

I’m a native New Yorker and got tired of hearing local politicians advocating for Israel, Mexico, Cuba and China over three decades ago. Now that they are advocating for India,

Here are my thoughts in the case of Israel. First, a relatively minor point: Americans who advocate for Israel (Jews, fundamentalist Christians) are not immigrants, so it is a different situation than that of Rep. Jayapal. But much more important from my point of view, if immigrants find that their homeland is under siege, I believe it is fine for them to petition their adopted nation. the U.S., for help. For example, when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, I had no problem with Crimean immigrants in the U.S. asking the American government for help. To me, the situation with Israel is the same.

That’s entirely different from what Rep. Jayapal is doing, which actively helping Indian companies, the Indian government and would-be economic immigrants from India, especially given that the latter threaten the livelihood of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Remember, in the 2008 presidential primary campaign, Barack Obama heavily criticized fellow candidate Hillary Clinton for joking to a Indian-American group that she is “the senator from Punjab.” Jayapal has been saying things along those lines, and she’s not joking.

 

Google’s Eric Schmidt Wants H-1B Cap Lifted

Last September,  in attending a research conference on the MIT campus, I was startled to see that Google had recently opened a major new office near the university. Since I am a big fan of both the school and the company, I was pleased to see this; in fact, Google is located right across the street from my favorite Cambridge hotel.

That pleasant image, though, is now somewhat marred by remarks made last week at MIT by Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. CNN Money reports that Schmidt said, “The single stupidest policy in the entire American political system was the limit on H-1B visas.”

Again, I am a big fan of Google. I use it many times per day, still the best search engine out there for me, not only in general but also for Google Scholar, Google Books, Google Maps and so on. I greatly admired the company for taking its financially risky but principled and courageous stand in refusing to censor the Web in China.

But whenever one sees a company with an audacious motto like “Don’t be evil,” one must suspect that it cannot be completely true. The firm has been accused of age discrimination at various times, and as many readers of this blog know, the H-1B visa is in large part motivated by a desire hire young foreign workers in lieu of older U.S. citizens and permanent residents.  In this post, I’ll discuss both the age issue and H-1B, with regard to Google.

The firm fired one of its directors, Brian Reid, right before its IPO, depriving him of a multi-million dollar windfall. Claiming that he had regularly been subject to ageist remarks, Reid sued the company for age discrimination. Among other things, according to a New York Times article,

…[Reid’s] supervisors, including the company’s vice president for engineering operations, allegedly called him a poor “cultural fit,” an “old guy” and a “fuddy-duddy” with ideas “too old to matter.”

In addition, a report on the case by a law firm stated,

According to Reid, during his two years at Google, an executive to whom Reid occasionally reported (then aged 38) made age-related comments to Reid “every few weeks,” telling him that his ideas were “obsolete” and “too old to matter,” and that Reid was “slow,” “fuzzy,” “sluggish,” and “lack[ed] energy.”

Reid’s counsel retained me as an expert witness in the case. The case was eventually settled. I must make a disclaimer: I don’t know the terms of the settlement, and of course could not divulge them even if I did. I was asked to perform statistical analysis, which I did, but that was the extent of my involvement. I never even met Dr. Reid. However, for those who are interested, the appellate court’s decision is a matter of public record, and some of my findings are cited there, as well as Google’s criticism.

If Google had been engaging in age discrimination before, did they adopt more equitable policies afterwords? There are those who claim otherwise. Fortune reports there is another age discrimination suit currently in progress against the firm, and I do believe that ageism is rampant in the industry. The above NYT article paints a disturbing picture of the situation at Facebook (whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said that young people are the best programmers, though he later apologized):

Lori Goler, the head of human resources and recruiting efforts at Facebook, said her company was looking for the “college student who built a company on the side, or an iPhone app over the weekend.” The company also hires more-experienced workers, if “they are results-focused and can deliver again.”

Regardless of age, Ms. Goler said, “We ask: Are they going to get to do what they love to do for fun at work?”

Some observers say much of this language is just code for age discrimination.

The judge in the current litigation against Google seems to suspect this. According to the Fortune piece,

…U.S. District Judge Beth Freeman asked how age factors into a person’s “Googleyness” (a word used to describe the intangible factors that someone a good fit at Google)…

Keep all that in mind as we turn to H-1B, and Schmidt’s call for eliminating the cap on the visa. Again, there are two main senses in which employers abuse the visa.:

  • Younger workers are cheaper than older workers, and most H-1Bs are young.
  • If an H-1B is being sponsored for a green card, she becomes effectively immobile, tethered to the employer. This is a huge advantage to many employers. (Most of the firm’s green card sponsorees are H-1Bs, so for simplicity I will simply refer to them as H-1Bs.)

Let’s take the second of these points first. Google admitted, actually volunteered, to a group of us researchers in 2012 that they view the tethered nature of the green card process as a major reason to hire H-1Bs. Note that Google and Schmidt were found guilty of colluding with Apple and others to not “poach” each other’s engineers.

Concerning age, as I wrote in my recent Fortune op-ed, 96.1% of Google’s green card sponsorees are at Levels I and II. (The Facebook figure was 91.1%.) Level III represents the 50th percentile of wages for a given occupation and region, so Levels I and II represent below-median salaries. But my focus here is not on the wages in those levels, but rather that the levels represent experience levels, a proxy for age.

Like most Silicon Valley firms, Google tends to hire its H-1Bs as foreign students studying at U.S. universities, typically with a Master’s degree. Holders of that degree are generally considered Level II rather than I, since the degree takes one or two years to complete, time taken to be equivalent to that amount of experience.

In other words:

  • Virtually all (96%!) of Google’s H-1Bs are young.
  • If the company is indeed engaging in ageism, the H-1B visa program is the firm’s enabler for this.

Google may pay more than, say, the Bank of America, for the same job. But the relevant comparison is Google to Google. Young workers at Google of course generally make less than older Googlers. Data compiled by Payscale, while rough, shows the point: For Google’s Mountain View campus, workers with less than a year of experience have a median salary of $89,665; for the 5-9 years range, the figure is $112,478; and for 10-19 years the median is $134,426. So Google saves a ton of money by hiring young H-1Bs (who also will be even cheaper than young Americans).

In addition to the wage savings and the tethering, another attraction of the visa to employers is convenience of hiring. Students at university campuses are almost all young, and plenty of them are foreigners who hope to acquire green cards. In other words, the universities have exactly what the employers want — and thus there is no incentive to beat the bushes for Americans, especially those in the dreaded over-35 crowd.

I am certainly am not saying Google is hiring the “wrong” workers. The Google interviewing process is quite rigorous (though again, some say, either consciously or unconsciously aimed at the young), and the workers they hire are first-rate. They’ve hired excellent foreign students from my department. But I do submit that in most cases they could have hired an excellent American instead.

As I have said so often, reform of the H-1B visa program is impossible without addressing the age issue. It’s not just Google and Facebook. The much-publicized hiring of H-1Bs at Disney, Southern California Edison and so on also involved young foreign workers, much younger than the Americans they replaced. The notion, popular in some quarters, that we should protect American workers at Disney but not American applicants to Google, is just plain wrong.

Schmidt is wrong too. The H-1B cap should be cut, not lifted.

 

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One More Negative Data Point on the Quality of the H-1Bs?

Seldom does a serious, number-filled blog cause me to laugh out loud, but this occurred today when I read today’s “gotcha” post in RealityCheck, Alan Tonelson’s outstanding blog site on economics and foreign policy.

Alan deftly juxtaposes two diametrically opposing views — by the same person:

“Trump’s crackdown on H-1B visas could prevent the next US unicorn born of Indian immigrants”

–Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, February 5, 2017

Share of Indian engineering graduates capable of writing “the correct logic for a program, a minimum requirement for any programming job”: 4.77%

–Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, April 20, 2017

Outrageous and funny, yes, and yet another reason to stay informed via RealityCheck. By the way, some years ago, McKinsey released a report finding weakness among the Chinese graduates as well.

But let’s take a closer look at these issues. Much of what I will say here will pertain to the Indians and Chinese, as they form the two largest H-1B groups, but I will first speak more generally:

As some of you will recall, my EPI study showed that the quality of foreign students (of all nationalities) in CS at U.S. schools is somewhat below that of their American peers. Measures included patenting, work in R&D, selectivity of U.S. institution attended and ACM dissertation awards. I also cited similar research by others.

Now looking at the Indian case,  first note that technically Bhattacharya could be right on both counts. Presumably the weaker Indian graduates don’t ever come to the U.S. or even work for the major Indian firms, and even if the overall quality were weak, there still could be some unicorn formers among them.

On the other hand, a little-known fact is that the Indian IT firms actually take mediocrity as their business model. That minimizes labor costs, and their view is that by partitioning a software project into small, well-defined components, the level of complexity of the work has been reduced to the point at which one does not need programming geniuses to get the job done. (See my article in IEEE IT Pro for references and counterarguments.)

Even at the Indian Institutes of Technologies, India’s “MITs,” with their extremely high admissions standards, the curricula are pedestrian and many professors are not strong (the pay is way too low to attract high-quality people). In addition, things appear not to be nearly as intense at the Indian schools. A survey done a few years ago by a researcher at Stanford asked CS students at Stanford, Cambridge and IIT how they spent their time. The IIT students had far more leisure time than did their California and UK counterparts, who were going through extremely demanding workloads. Mind you, I do think that there is far too much intensity at the U.S. and UK schools in CS, so I am not faulting IIT at all. But it does affect the quality of the new graduates, even though the IIT grads, all top intellects, do eventually catch up.

I would also be quick to point out, as I have often done over the years, that the average level of programming skill among (U.S.) graduates of U.S. schools is not so strong either, even with that intensity. The ones who really love CS are fantastically good, but they are probably only about 15% of the U.S. grads, depending on the school.

Now, what would India and China say to the above? India might point to the success of Indian immigrants in the U.S. at the executive level. The CEOs of both Google and Microsoft are from India, they would point out. Unfortunately, business acumen is not my field, so I really have no comment there, except to say good for Mr. Pichai and Mr. Nadella, whom I presume are indeed tops in business management.

What about the Chinese? They might point to the success of Chinese universities in the ACM Programming Contest and the Top 500 list of most powerful supercomputers. Sorry, but I don’t consider either of these to be of any relevance to the issues here, or for that matter, of any practical significance.

The programming contest is exactly the kind of thing a developing nation like China needs to gain exposure on the national stage — attention-getting, and an acheivable goal if money and resources are devoted to it — but basically meaningless. As I wrote a few years ago for Bloomberg,

The Jiaoda [China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University] contestants are essentially student-athletes, spending all their time training for the event, according to a Jiaoda public information officer, Xu Jun. And the skills needed for the competition are indeed trainable. Although the problems posed each year are unique, their solutions usually fall into a handful of mathematical patterns.

This gives a huge benefit to those who can devote themselves to full-time, year-round practice. By contrast, most top U.S. computer-science students have better things to do with their time, including founding startups that might become billion-dollar companies.

China’s performance in that contest has no bearing on its ability to come up with the next killer app.

For the supercomputer list, my analogy has been to building the world’s tallest skyscraper. Given enough money and will power, one can always put up a new one taller than the last one. Again, for countries that feel the need to prove themselves on the world stage, such as China, supercomputers might be good investments, but otherwise they are simply the result of throwing a lot of money at some very narrow applications.

And finally, what about those killer apps? Skeptics argue that India and China have yet to produce any, and frankly I agree. China might point, for instance, to WeChat, which does messaging, point-of-sale payment and the like. The Economist ran a long article praising the remarkably widespread usage the app enjoys in China, and I myself am a WeChat user. But there is nothing innovative about it.

So who was right, the Ananya Bhattacharya of February 5 or the Ananya Bhattacharya of April 20? Neither Pichai nor Nadella is an entrepreneur, much less a unicorn former, so they don’t fall into the February 5 category. Perhaps readers can supply some better examples. On the other hand, I assure you that the H-1Bs, though generally not “the best and the brightest,” deserve more than what is implied in the April 20 remark.

Fortune Op-Ed

An editor with Fortune asked me to write an op-ed commenting on Infosys’ recent announcement that it will hire up to 10,000 American workers, to counter calls in Congress and the White House to tighten policy on the H-1B work visa. I declined, saying that I strongly believe that too much attention is being paid to the Infosyses and that in my view they are being scapegoated. So the editor asked me to write about that instead, and my piece ran today, here.

Did H-1B Cost Hillary Florida?

A reader called my attention to Softletter.com’s post on the H-1B work visa, with this intriguing passage (emphasis added):

At Disney and SoCal, the laid off workers trained their foreign replacements under threat of losing their severance pay, making a mockery of the claim that the H-1B program was filling technology holes at either company. Rather, the clear goal in both cases was to replace highly skilled American workers with more cheaply paid foreigners. From a PR standpoint, both initiatives were disasters, with the Trump campaign focusing attention on the plight of the laid of workers in certain venues, while the Clinton and Sanders forces were largely silent on the issue. Sources we have within the RNC have told us H-1B was a significant contributor to Trump’s narrow victory in Florida.

I’m rather skeptical of this. In spite of all the publicity given to the Disney case and Disney victims such as Leo Perrero courageously choosing to speak out, most voters simply do not keep abreast of daily news.

But I will say that if voters really knew the true story of H-1B — especially the fact that virtually every employer abuses the program — and if they knew about Hillary’s “Let them eat cake” view of H-1B, tons more voters would have turned against her. Her near-100% support from the tech industry would have been just as toxic to her as her enriching herself by giving speeches to Wall Street whose transcripts she refused to make public.

In a Vox interview during the election campaign, Hillary (a) exhibited a real understanding of the H-1B problem but (b) said H-1B is good for nation even though American techies are harmed. Point (b) is especially galling in light of (a). She says

I think it’s because everybody with six degrees of separation either knows or thinks they know someone who knows somebody who lost a job to an undocumented worker or to a worker brought over on a visa to do their job. There’s just a lot of churn that suggests this is a real problem.

but speaks of

…the immigrants who fill jobs we need, particularly high-value jobs…

Of course, this is just the deliberately fallacious “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” yet again, and, upon close inspection, the same as what Trump has said consistently since August 2015. But Trump brought up the issue himself and railed against H-1B, whereas, to my knowledge, Hillary never once mentioned the issue; she only addressed it in that interview because she was asked about it. And even then, in essence she dismissed people like Perrero, as one reader put it, as collateral damage.

Perrero, of course, is a rare exception. Two more are a victim of Cisco and one of Texas Instruments. But again, very rare. Would you speak out in their situations, and risk blacklisting by employers? One man who challenged Sun Microsystems (later acquired by Oracle) soon found himself working in retail sales (non-tech-related).

I recently was invited to speak at the San Francisco branch of the EEOC. While there, I asked them about this huge obstacle; what should victims do? One of the more senior EEOC people replied:

Filing an EEOC case requires a strong backbone and a strong stomach. Anyone considering it should first check their backbone and then check their stomach.

In other words, even the EEOC concedes that the system is stacked against the victims. Hillary’s Intels Good, Infosyses Bad comments vividly reinforce that point.

Ironically, and once again illustrating the high complexity of political campaigns, an anti-Hillary ad  during the campaign pointed out that Hillary has been quite cozy with the Infosyses for years. Barack Obama ran a similar ad in the 2008 primary election, but withdrew it and apologized, not wanting to appear anti-Indian. The ad last year also seems to have been quietly dropped, likely for the same reason.

If only voters knew…