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Bill Gates H-1B Remarks Miss the Mark
BG's Remarks About H-1B Visas Got SYS-CON's West Coast Bureau Chief Thinking

Bill Gates doesn't want to deny smart people the chance to come to this country. Speaking in front of politicians, this viewpoint should resonate well. After all, we're a nation of immigrants, and it's our smarts, our ingenuity, that makes America great, right?

Yet the man is getting hammered (metaphorically) by people who think his view that to eliminate the H-1B visa would be a good thing is, in fact, disingenuous, cynical, greedful, and other bad things.

With unemployment among programmers at levels that probably exceed 50%, if you count all the "independent contractors" and "consultants" making almost nothing, as well as those who have simply given up and found work in construction or sales, the idea of allowing unlimited numbers of immigrant programmers who will presumably work for below-market wages is going to be controversial. Actually, it's going to be very, very controversial, unpopular, and ridiculed. Not very smart, Bill.

But I want to take him to task over the words he used, not the idea he espoused. He sarcastically implied that there are those who would not let "too many smart people" into this country. In doing so, he not only damned those of us who might not be as smart as he thinks we should be. He has damned all those American immigrants who might not have had 140+ IQs, but who did know how to work hard, raise families, and make voluntary and positive contributions to society in their precious off-hours.

Bill, alas, has also fallen prey to that great bugbear of "smart" people, the Platonic fallacy. Had he stayed at Harvard just another year, he might have learned about this. Not an official doctrine or even surgically-wielded verity, the Platonic fallacy notes that Plato's idealistically visualized reality depended on perfectly wise leaders who possessed the ultimate truths and were thus the most qualified to make the rules and enact them.

A simplified, yet I hope not simplistic, way to state the Platonic fallacy is "intelligence equals virtue." Its reasoning is thus: Smart people should be favored, because smart people make the right decisions, make the cool things, and are just better to have around because they're, you know, smart.

But one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist or Microsoft programmer to know that many very bad people are very smart and many very smart people are very bad. Aristotle knew this, and was the first proponent of the Platonic fallacy. Aristotle saw things as they were, categorized them, and harbored no illusions about the goodness of anything.

Where does one enter the smart zone, anyway? At what IQ level? What correlation is there between IQ and good? What is IQ, anyway? How many monkeys would it take before one of them got a perfect 1600 (excuse me, 2400) on the SAT? Would you hire the monkey that did it? How many angels can dance on the pin of a chip? How smart is your average angel, anyway?

Bill Gates writes like a 10-year-old. I know, I've read his books. (Or maybe he writes like Arthur Miller but has a 10-year-old for a ghostwriter.) There is nothing wrong with this. Many 10-year-olds have work that is worth reading.  But Gates might be expected to be a more compelling writer, and speaker, than someone so very "smart," in fact, is.

I don't read Bill for enjoyment. I don't read him because he's smart. I read him because he has the resources to wield tremendous power over society, worldwide. Through his philanthropic efforts, he seems to be succeeding brilliantly. You don't have to be smart to help stamp out childhood disease. You simply have to be human (and wealthy). Bill's efforts in this area may some day obviate any wounds he's inflicted by careless use of the word "smart."

But yet, I can't get off this topic. Through his company, Bill still seems hung up on this "smart" thing. As if the tangled mess that was DOS (pretending to be CP/M), the series of crash-prone kludges known as the early versions of Windows (pretending to be the Macintosh), and the virus/trojan horse/spyware/malware-prone browser called Explorer (pretending to be Navigator) are all the products of the "smartest" people on the planet. If "smart" equals great engineering, then Microsoft needs to find another adjective.

Now Bill wants to extend the misery by implying that, really, we need to make sure that we don't turn away any smart people at the border. "What's the capital of Assyria?" You don't know, you're plunged into the pit of eternal doom.

So, sorry Bill, to appear so saturnine in contrast to your jovial fixation on the word "smart." Go back to school, do as Bill Joy says, and read the Greeks. Then tell us again why you believe that there should be no restrictions on immigrant programmers. You might have a strong case. You might convince people, especially if you never use that awful word "smart" again.

About Roger Strukhoff
Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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Reader Feedback: Page 1 of 2

Well written article, good and insightful analogies.

Well-written article, with insightful questions.

There are many facets of this issue that remain unacknowledged by people; these are:

1) Nature seeks an equilibrium wherever there are disparities. The disparity that I'm referring to is the standard-of-living in various countries. When the world was less globalized, this was not so obvious. With satellite television beaming images of an "affluent" America and the Internet providing details, the disparity screams at people who have less, to do something about it. Consequently, people who have very little are willing to do quite a lot to move up the food-chain - working for a lot less, working 12-16 hours per day, crossing deserts, hiding in shipping containers and wheel-holds of planes...; so long as there is inequilibrium in living standards in this "globalized" world, we will see wrenching changes for the foreseeable future;

2) An out-of-control population growth, caused by China, India and other third-world countries. As a child frowing up in the late '60's, I recall India's population being approximately 300+ million. India was so full of promise after our recently won independence. Within very short periods of time (in the '70's), I was aware of a feeling of a train that was moving too fast - a rush that I couldn't explain, and that made me uneasy. I recognize now, this feeling was not about progress, but of the growth of India's population, slowly careening out of control. At 1.1+ billion today (and with Chinas 1.3+ billion), there are approximately as many mouths to feed in those two countries, as existed in the entire world in the late '60's/early '70's. I fear that what we're witnessing is the downhill roll of the population juggernaut. Its consequences are being felt most in the US, simply because the US has the most to offer the world (economically), and has the free-est immigration policy of any other nation.

Any long-term solution MUST recognize these two facts and strive to address them appropriately. My prescription is:

a) Industrialized nations must help the third-world nations manage their population growth. If we wait too long, nature will take care of it for us with disastrous consequences (Thomas Malthus, 1798);

b) Third-world nations MUST dramatically improve their investments in infrastructure - clean roads, clean water, electricity, hospitals and schools. By improving their standard of living, they reduce the disparity between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and reduce the desire to migrate. It also brings more economic equilibrium to the world, thus reducing the desire for conflict;

c) Industrialized nations must recognize that there will be some structural shifts as nature attempts to find its equilibrium. To slow this down, governments of such countries must adopt wide-ranging policies - i) a re-education tax on companies for every immigrant they bring in to assist the displaced native workers in moving towards higher skills or new careers; ii) incentives to invest in non-urban areas; iii) providing broadband as a public utility, allowing every resident to work from anywhere for a company, thus allowing people to live in areas with lower costs-of-living, yet working productively; iv) continuing to invest in long-term research, as opposed to being driven by Wall Street's short-term myopia; and more...

c) First-world country residents who are displaced from jobs, must recognize that as the world gets increasingly "globalized", they must work harder to stay in the same place (anyone that loves food and exercises to maintain their health/weight recognizes this trade-off easily). People climbing the economic ladder are willing to do a lot more to get higher; those who're already at the top must focus on working hard to stay there. They must continually educate themselves; they must continually involve themselves in the elections of their politicians and the Board of Directors for each company's stock that they own. If your politicians and your Board of Directors are not doing what you'd like to see them do - then you MUST vote and let them know that. To wait for someone else to solve the problem, is to abrogate the sense of responsibility that made the US the world's greatest economic engine. Finally, do what you love - not what brings you the most money. Economic changes can take away the money - but it can never take away what you love doing - because if you love doing what you do, you will find ways to keep doing it. That's nature for you!

I am smart enough to note that we will loose our "technical edge" because technically talented US citizens entering college have no incentive to go into technical careers. Why bother when they'll have trouble finding work?

You and Bill don't seem to be able to see the long term implications of what you advocate. Shrinking incomes mean shrinking markets - worldwide. How does that benefit anyone?

US workers are at least as bright and at least as capable as workers anywhere else in the world. What's missing is support of technical education, which Mr. Gates, like most CEOs, continues to ignore.

Among other things, Microsoft continues to price technical tools high enough to put them out of reach for many individual programmers who are motivated to learn on their own.

Don't increase H1-B Visas man. Just send your jobs to India. Soon you'd have (there are already cases reported) of Engineers coming to India to work.

What Bill was trying to stress - which was conveniently lost on you was the fact that USA stands to lose a "Technical Edge" that it has otherwise maintained over the new Industrial and Technical Powerhouses - China and India. Already a huge percentage of Hardware is being done in China and Software in India. The loss of the fastest supercomputer record to Japan. Do you see a pattern here????

Sure reduce the H1-B Visas, we'll have the work done here, cheaper and even better (we can put two or even three people to do a job effectively and efficiently where you guys can put only one). Then one day you will wake up to see that all that restriction on skilled worker programs has achieved is a country of people who have no jobs and an ever-growing Debt with (here is the irony) Third world Countries!

One can disagree with Bill about many things - but I back him on this one!If you were "smart" enough you'd see what Bill means too! ;) Either ways ... borders mean little these days. We are all living "The Great American Life", geographically displaced of course!

Apart from jobs, outsourcing has another implication also which is very big and dangerous: Cultural conversion. Immigrants come from different cultures and they get converted to the new one. The conversion does not stop here. It is exported back to the origin country of immigrant. People of such countries try to get the "status" of immigrant. To do so, they put their children in English medium schools instead of the schools running in mother tongue. (Bill Gates should appoint only those who have studied using mother tongue up to the age of 18 years as a step towards remedy of the situation).

English language's invasion on our(Asian) and probably all other cultures is the biggest threat to them. We will face it with our greatest strength.

Ajay D. Desai, E-mail:, URL:

03-Jun-2005, Ahmedabad, INDIA.

Believe it or not. This appears to be the only way to stay in touch with the fast changing global dynamics. Remember what kept America strong-It's determination to do whatever it takes to remain a leader. If we don't get them here at any cost (evenif this translates to temporal displacement) somebody else will. Did we all forgot efficiency is nothing but doing something at a lower cost without affecting quality?

Thank you for those words. I'm not living in the USA but what Mr Gates is saying is the same as many politicians in my country and they seems to adore Mr Gates. We have a lot of people that are out of jobs and we are fighting against politicians that are trying to say that we need to let people from other countries in to our country. I can agree on doing so if they need help to survive and protection against political prosecution, but not to take the jobs from us. We have a rather high number of people that are un-employed and I think it's the same in USA. We need our jobs to survive. Let people come to our countries but of the correct reasons not to lower the wages and increase the profit of the industry.

Not hate, anger. Read this op-ed column from the New York Times and maybe you'll understand why I'm so angry.

I have a 24 year old son who graduated magna cum laude from college last May. His job prospects have turned out to be so discouraging he decided he needs to go to grad school.

Talk about a world economy all you want. Nations still exist. Elected officials are expected to serve the people who elect them. We did not elect them to put citizens out of work by way of H1-B visas.

In most of the countries that the programmers come from, american products are sold. Alot of this products compete and as a result there might be nor internal market since there is nothing to program. Americans can also work freely there if they wanted. Just wake up please, and don't talk ridiculous. This is one world, not one country, and things will move everywhere. You can't pretend to be an empire, and tell people do as i say, but not as i do. As a reminder, jobs can still go oversees, as programming does not need physical presence. And your opinion does not sound like fact, not even like fiction, but more like unbased personal hate. Can be anything but a journalist.

Less competent? You really don't get it, do you? The issue is who will work for less.

It has nothing to do with who is more competent. It also has nothing to do with where our grandparents or great grandparents came from.

It is about legislation that allows corporations to import those who will work for less, so they can put educated, experienced and hard working U.S. citizens out of work. Immigration law is supposed to protect citizens of this country, not put them out of work.

It is about corporate greed and arrogance on the part of those who are paid way more than they deserve.

It is ridiculous to try to force corporation to hire less competent people only because they, by accident, were born in a land in which more than 95% are descendent of inmmigrants.

Do your work and dont stand behind artificial protection like a custom anti inmmigrant legislation.
it is a coward actitude.

I dont try to bother anyone, but to stop this "dont let them choose freely" lamentations. Did tjey stop the farm revolution. Anyone talks about "dont let foreigns farm workers in" now?

There is nothing wrong with importing really smart people to the states, the more the merrier. The problem doesn't lie with inteligence or lack thereof, but rather with the exploitation of these smart foreign workers at the expense of smart local workers.

50% may be a little high, but I know a large number of software engineers that have "given up" and I know an even larger number of engineers that are working for "immigrant" wages. Together, large corporations and politicians are systematically destroying this industry.

It's an interesting problem they've created. On one hand corporate America is bemoaning the "lack" of qualified engineers and claims "immigrant" engineers are the only solution. Bringing in immigrant engineers ultimately pushes engineering salaries down which in turn makes a career as an engineer unattractive to us natives.

One of the reason I chose this career was the earning potential, that's quickly disappearing. I have 4 children and as it stands right now there is no way I can recommend any engineering discipline as a career.

Or, as Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake."

Think Bill knows what that means?

Does he know who the Romanov family was?

If he ever does finish his education, he should concentrate on history.

Those who are here on H1-B visas don't know more than US citizens who do the same work - they work for less, no matter what the letter of the law says. That legislation is a scam perpetrated by large corporations in collusion with legislators that who represent those who pay them, not those who vote for them.

man, that's some messed up article. 50% unemployment? where did you get the stats? "smart" not good enough as a criterion? pick another one and see if it gives better results. I don't believe so, but you try, ok? how does one define smart? there are a lot of definitions out there, search on google. put some order in this article and try again, later.

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