Gates Urges Feds to Increase Skilled Labor Pool for Technology

Published May 1, 2008

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates has made in recent weeks a series of optimistic predictions about information technology growth during the next 10 years. To facilitate the technological progress he predicts, Gates is recommending a series of government policy changes, provoking criticism from industry analysts.

Addressing the Northern Virginia Technology Council on March 13, Gates outlined future dramatic changes in television, speech recognition, handwriting recognition, and increasingly personalized entertainment systems. Gates said, “I don’t see anything that will stop the rapid advance.”

Need for Skilled Workers

Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science and Technology on March 12, Gates said, “U.S. companies face a severe shortfall of scientists and engineers with expertise to develop the next generation of breakthroughs.”

Gates added, “We don’t invest enough as a nation in the basic research needed to drive long-term innovation. If we don’t reverse these trends, our competitive advantage will erode. Our ability to create new high-paying jobs will suffer.”

Dr. Charles N. Steele, assistant professor of economics at Hillsdale College, expressed skepticism about Gates’s evaluation.

Steele remarked, “I suspect Gates is right about shortfalls of skilled scientists and engineers. But his economics is nonsensical. Gates’s statement about creating high-paying jobs is bizarre. If there’s a shortage of experts in some field, their wages ought to be even higher, at least in the short term.”

Immigration Restrictions

Gates and many economists agree government restrictions on the ability of some skilled workers to stay in the United States may severely slow the rate of technological progress. Gates remarked, “Our current immigration policies make it increasingly difficult for [foreign] students to remain in the United States. At a time when talent is the key to economic success, it makes no sense to educate people in our universities, often subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, and then insist that they return home.”

Dr. Robert P. Murphy, adjunct scholar for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, concurred. “If the goal is to make the U.S. economy more competitive, [sending skilled foreigners away] is just about the silliest policy imaginable. We pass over potential U.S. students in order to train foreigners, and then don’t allow them to remain here and produce!”

Steele expressed a similar concern. “Government is very good–and getting better–at preventing foreign workers, including technical experts, from coming to America. With the current hysteria over immigration, I expect this situation to worsen, not improve,” he said.

Wants Bigger Bureaucracy

During his Congressional testimony, Gates recommended increased federal involvement in education.

“As a nation, we must have a fundamental goal that every child in the U.S. should graduate from high school prepared for college, career, and life,” Gates said. “To achieve this, we need metrics that reflect what students learn and the progress they make.”

Gates claimed increased centralization of the public education system would result in “[b]etter data [and] help us identify the most effective teachers.” He recommended the federal government “adopt better policies for recruiting, training, and retaining these teachers for our public schools.”

Murphy disagreed, asking, “Which are better, private or public schools? Who is more likely to invest research money wisely–private shareholders or politicians?

“Unfortunately,” Murphy added, “Gates has fallen for the classic fallacy of assuming that if something is important, it needs to be provided by government.”

Gates would not want to apply those recommendations to his own industry, Steele noted.

Already Too Bureaucratic

Education analysts say the real obstacle to Gates’s vision of progress is an already highly bureaucratized local public education system. Steele observed, “American K-12 education is mostly decentralized to the local level, but there it tends to be run as a top-down, bureaucratic system.”

Steele said, “Increased federal interference in education will worsen, rather than improve, these problems.”

Gennady Stolyarov II ([email protected]) is editor-in-chief of The Rational Argumentator, an online magazine advocating principles of reason, rights, and progress.