Billions Lost by Hilarie T Gamm

You’ll often hear, in ref­er­ence to cur­rent events, that the Repub­li­can Par­ty has its ori­gins in the anti-slav­ery move­ment of the mid-nine­teenth century.

This is, strict­ly speak­ing, true, but bowdlerized.

The best an abo­li­tion­ist Lib­er­ty Par­ty can­di­date ever achieved for Pres­i­dent was in 1844 with 2.3% of what was then the pop­u­lar vote.

The Free Soil Par­ty was anti-slav­ery but only in so much as it dis­liked enslaved peo­ple. It got 10.1 per­cent in 1848.

The Know Noth­ing Par­ty did­n’t care for slav­ery but what real­ly got it going was anti-immi­grant nativism, con­tem­porar­i­ly aimed at Irish and Ger­man Catholics. In 1856, it got 21.5% of the vote. By then, the Repub­li­can Par­ty was com­pet­ing on a slo­gan of “Free soil, free sil­ver, free men.”

Abra­ham Lin­coln won the pres­i­den­cy as a Repub­li­can with less than 40% of the pop­u­lar vote four years later.

Billions Lost, by Hilarie T. Gamm
Hilar­ie T. Gamm’s Bil­lions Lost: The Amer­i­can Tech Cri­sis and the Roadmap to Change (Paper­back, Cre­ate­Space Inde­pen­dent Pub­lish­ing Platform)

At that time, most white Amer­i­cans who were inclined to view slav­ery as a prob­lem chose to blame the enslaved peo­ple for the results of their exploita­tion rather than their slavers.

Many native-born felt com­pelled to recoil at the con­di­tions recent immi­grants expe­ri­enced in the depths of pover­ty around them but despised such peo­ple for endur­ing it.

If you’ve ever resent­ed a home­less per­son for smelling of mildew next to you at a cof­fee shop rather than the cir­cum­stances that led to them being out­side in damp and drea­ry con­di­tions, you’ll under­stand how insid­i­ous and unhelp­ful this impulse is.

In what might unfair­ly be called the Ore­gon View, there has always been a strain of the left that comes to the con­clu­sion that Amer­i­ca’s prob­lems can be solved by align­ing against the vul­ner­a­ble and forcibly expelling or fur­ther mar­gin­al­iz­ing them.

Make it ille­gal for black Amer­i­cans to stay in the area with­out hav­ing to suf­fer vio­lence. Make it ille­gal for Chi­nese Amer­i­cans to return to the home they’ve made for decades, even if the per­son just cre­at­ed the most pop­u­lar cher­ry in the Unit­ed States. The fruit of his inge­nu­ity and hard­work — Ah Bing’s name­sake — could stay, but not the per­son. Ore­gon is an easy tar­get, but so would be Taco­ma.

Or any sun­down town. Or any­where in Amer­i­ca at any time.

This post is, by the way, a book review of Hilar­ie T. Gam­m’s Bil­lions Lost: The Amer­i­can Tech Cri­sis and the Roadmap to Change. It’s a bad book, and in any just world that val­ued empa­thy, it would be uni­ver­sal­ly be regard­ed as such.

Instead we live in this one, and I know it has some appeal.

A coun­try is more than an econ­o­my. We’re a civic soci­ety.”

That’s the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for­mer Don­ald Trump favorite Steve Ban­non would give for keep­ing non­white immi­grants out of the Unit­ed States, even when they’re con­tribut­ing a net gain in any mea­sur­able eco­nom­ic sense.

Good on him for avoid­ing all dis­sem­bling to get right to the heart of white nation­al­ism, though. It’s not the legal­ism or the process or the idea of a net drain: it’s that the only peo­ple he wants here are white, cul­tur­al­ly “Judeo”-Christians.

Gamm at least starts from a place of greater sym­pa­thy because the sup­posed sub­ject and tar­get of Bil­lions Lost is the H‑1B visa pro­gram.

The spe­cial­ty occu­pa­tions that tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers are sup­posed to be fill­ing aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly so spe­cial at all. The pro­gram gives cor­po­ra­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly those in the tech indus­try, a strong club to beat domes­tic tech work­ers with, some­thing they’re keen to do after the class-action law­suit Viz­caino v. Microsoft of the late 1990s gained domes­tic work­ers more protections.

This first por­tion of the book tracks the his­to­ry of the U.S. tech indus­try, show­ing how reg­u­la­tions requir­ing employ­ers to treat their Amer­i­can work­ers fair­ly sent com­pa­nies down a path of least resis­tance look­ing for work­ers eas­i­er to exploit and mis­treat. It acknowl­edges how ris­ing edu­ca­tion stan­dards, glob­al­ly but par­tic­u­lar­ly in Eng­lish-speak­ing India, cre­at­ed an alter­na­tive work­force will­ing and able to do work more cheap­ly with less strin­gent protections.

So, the legit­i­mate prob­lem and more fun­da­men­tal scari­ness rep­re­sent­ed by a Y2K cat­a­stro­phe was an excuse to uti­lize a lot of tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers to fix one big prob­lem, and cor­po­ra­tions con­tin­ued to use such work­ers long after that emer­gency had dis­ap­peared. The cor­po­ra­tions ben­e­fit­ting most from the pro­gram made no noise about stop­ping it, and in the 21st Cen­tu­ry, there were no unions of any strength to make noise. No issues there.

But it’s at this cross­road after iden­ti­fy­ing a prob­lem that pro­gres­sives and reac­tionar­ies fun­da­men­tal­ly diverge.

The YouTube cre­ator Olly Thorn pro­vid­ed an opti­mistic frame for why the left, gen­er­al­ly, has the stronger case for the future. A pro­gres­sive sees the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in a sys­tem, and looks for ways to make com­mon cause with each oth­er against some oppres­sive force, to be stronger by mutu­al support.

A reac­tionary looks for ways to use some­one else’s weak­ness as a way to define the vul­ner­a­ble as sep­a­rate from and less­er than a more self-suf­fi­cient group that the audi­ence of course always imag­ines being includ­ed in.

That’s where this book takes its turn into a bad trip, and where the Amer­i­can left has tra­di­tion­al­ly struggled.

Gamm says that restrict­ing for­eign work­ers is the best solu­tion to help them not be exploit­ed, but real­ly to help native U.S. tech work­ers like her.

This is in con­trast to the more nat­ur­al solu­tion: empow­er those new res­i­dents to be inde­pen­dent and give them the sort of pro­tec­tions that would align with oth­er U.S. labor­ers — that is, to be able to regard them­selves as ful­ly American.

Gamm dis­abus­es the read­er of any idea that this is an inno­cent mis­take or one born of harm­less igno­rance by mak­ing it unmis­tak­ably clear she dis­likes the idea of F‑1 visas and for­eign stu­dents in Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties, too.

Here are some of the com­plaints Gamm gives for why uni­ver­si­ties should accept few­er non-native students:

  1. An anec­dote from one Chi­nese stu­dent that “nine­ty per­cent” of Chi­nese stu­dents like to hang out with fel­low Chi­nese stu­dents instead of social­iz­ing with oth­er groups because they have noth­ing in common.
  2. A ref­er­ence to a 2005 New York Times arti­cle sum­ma­rized as for­eign grad­u­ate stu­dents hav­ing accents that are too thick and don’t speak Eng­lish well enough to teach Americans.
  3. A regur­gi­ta­tion and exten­sion of a Mal­colm Glad­well argu­ment in “Rice Pad­dies and Math Tests” that the cul­ture of Chi­nese rice farm­ing and accep­tance of author­i­tar­i­an­ism means the for­eign stu­dents have a nat­ur­al predilec­tion for STEM fields that favor rote mem­o­riza­tion and prac­tice, some­thing an Amer­i­can focus on “inge­nu­ity” and his­to­ry of mechan­i­cal corn farm­ing can’t fair­ly com­pete with.
  4. This direct quote: “Math, sci­ence, and com­put­er majors hold less appeal for those mar­riage-mind­ed het­ero­sex­u­al young men who hope to meet a poten­tial mate for life dur­ing their col­lege studies.”

That’s a lit­er­al, if tossed-off, argu­ment the book makes, which, if we’re not in 14 words ter­ri­to­ry yet, we’re def­i­nite­ly see­ing the road signs for the off-ramp to it.

This is, again, not a good book, but that’s a lucky thing, because it would not have been so hard to sand off these rough edges and make it the sort of book oth­er polit­i­cal fig­ures on the left would have felt the impulse to con­duct apolo­get­ics for as not nec­es­sar­i­ly racist, just reflect­ing the sort of thing white peo­ple nat­u­ral­ly feel uncom­fort­able about.

With­out the ref­er­ences to par­tic­i­pa­tion tro­phies, lazy mil­lenials, and full-throat­ed endorse­ment of char­ter schools, this could have been the sort of book that lulled unsus­pect­ing folk into think­ing it had any­thing use­ful to say.

Luck­i­ly, Gamm includ­ed all of that and also ped­dled a con­spir­a­cy that Chi­nese stu­dents are all spies tak­ing Amer­i­can intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty back to the Mid­dle King­dom to make fools of us all.

This is an aside in an already digres­sive piece, but how unin­formed do you have to be to exam­ine the rela­tion­ship between oth­er nations and the U.S. uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem and not rec­og­nize it as the great­est force of soft pow­er we possess?

It’s not even fair. Repressed, wealthy for­eign nation­als come to U.S. col­leges and expe­ri­ence the best years of their life because they can surf an uncen­sored Inter­net and express diver­gent polit­i­cal opin­ions with impuni­ty — oh and they’re also young, as healthy and attrac­tive as they’ll ever be.

For the lit­er­al entire­ty of the rest of their lives, these for­mer stu­dents will look back on their time in the Unit­ed States as the best years they ever had, and a not-insub­stan­tial por­tion will pine to move back and recap­ture their lost nostalgia.

If you want to improve the H‑1B pro­gram, give work­ers the sort of visa that allows them to work any­where they want to, union­ize just like the native-born, and ful­fill their aspi­ra­tions to become Americans.

If you want to make U.S. col­leges more wel­com­ing to already-Amer­i­can stu­dents, fund pub­lic ter­tiary edu­ca­tion so they don’t have to go into crip­pling debt to pur­sue STEM fields deep­er. This is not difficult.

You don’t restrict who gets to come to Amer­i­ca: you expand what it means to be an Amer­i­can. You actu­al­ly help peo­ple instead of pun­ish­ing some Oth­er you’ve just defined. If your roof leaks when it rains, fix the roof.

I’m not as opti­mistic as Olly Thorn. I think folks will always find it eas­i­er to shore up their inse­cu­ri­ties by point­ing at some­one else and argu­ing some essen­tial qual­i­ty of those peo­ple makes them wor­thy of scorn, Pap Finn-style.

But we can do better.

We have to do bet­ter. Not just for tech work­ers we think can help us in the Brain Drain sense but for those we despise for their weak­ness and assume can’t help any­one. Ban­non has already admit­ted the dis­tinc­tion is irrel­e­vant. We should too.

A tem­po­rary-for­eign-work­er pro­gram that allows and requires those work­ers to work only for one com­pa­ny in order to make mon­ey — and be deport­ed if the com­pa­ny says they broke the terms of their con­tract — is not slav­ery, but the choice of des­ti­tu­tion for a per­son and their fam­i­ly set against sex­u­al harass­ment, phys­i­cal abuse­ment, or fatal ill­ness is not a fair one for work­ers to have to make.

That’s for any work­ers, from any place work­ing any where in America.

That’s where our empa­thy ought to be.

That’s where our focus on pro­vid­ing guar­an­tees ought to remain.

Jesus said: “As you do to the least of these, you did to me.” We have to make sure that’s impor­tant to us whether we’re talk­ing about the one from Nazareth or Michoacán, and whether a Lee was born in Shang­hai or Mobile.

We have to do the work of climb­ing on the roof to fix the leak, not just shove some­one out into the rain to feel dri­er by comparison.

Adjacent posts

One reply on “Book Review: Hilarie Gamm’s “Billions Lost” sadly has nothing useful or progressive to say”

  1. Sure, close your eyes to the wide­spread abuse of cit­i­zens and for­eign work­ers in the name of cor­po­rate profit. 

    Talked with one H‑1B work­er who said he knew they were talk­ing jobs from cit­i­zens. Said his promised paid room, board, and trans­porta­tion con­sist­ed of a one-bed­room apart­ment shared by four work­ers, rice, and 6 AM bus rides to a US tech cor­po­ra­tion in exchange for 80–100 hour work weeks and phys­i­cal threats against his fam­i­ly in India, whom he had not seem in six months, when he protest­ed con­di­tions. Clear­ly you also believe both and for­eign cit­i­zens should be equiv­a­lent in the eyes of our US gov­ern­ment. Indeed, giv­en pref­er­en­tial tax treat­ment, paid high­er edu­ca­tion, etc. clear that you believe for­eign cit­i­zens should be prop­er­ly ele­vat­ed above our own. Any and all inde­pen­dent stud­ies have con­firmed there is no “skills short­age”. This is a bald-faced lie prop­a­gat­ed by cor­po­rate lob­by­ists and their media shills. Do not be mis­tak­en, this is about cheap labor and cor­po­rate prof­its – at the expense of our nation and cit­i­zens. And, least you have any doubts, the game has now expand­ed under new guise, Time to open your eyes.

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