Paul Graham is Wrong

In Paul Graham's latest blog post, he voices his support "to make immigration easier" to allow easier hiring of foreign tech workers by using a overly simplistic argument:

The US has less than 5% of the world's population. Which means if the qualities that make someone a great programmer are evenly distributed, 95% of great programmers are born outside the US.

US does rougly has 5% of the world population: 320 million at end of 2014 out of the world's 7.3 billion. But is comparing strict population appropriate? Are rural farming families in China likely to apply for technical jobs in the Us? No.

A better comparison maybe to compare number of college graduates. The data is less accurate, but this gives you a good picture:

The ratio of these numbers are much closer, far less dramatic.

Constrained for Talent, or Cheap Talent?

Graham argues that there are just not enough great programmers to go around and the immigrate programmers are being paid the same:

But if you talk to startups, you find practically every one over a certain size has gone through legal contortions to get programmers into the US, where they then paid them the same as they'd have paid an American.

Personally, I cannot imagine a start up that can affort this type of legal fees are start ups anymore. I would love to see the actual figures that back this argument up.

Immigration is Good

Ironically, I believe immigration reform is good, and it is good not just for the tech world. I like free markets. I like competitions. Within the startup world, I have hired and worked with great programmers all around the world.

But Local is Important

There is a lot to be said for having software developers that understand the local culture and market. To use a reverse example, can a US designer successfully design a UI for the Chinese market without a lot of local help? No.

What to do?

To solve the root of the program, America needs to pay more attention to STEM in school. We need to eliminate the gender gap in engineering. We need to teach more and better maths in elementary schools. Otherwise we are loosing the race to build a great talent pool.