A Journal for Western Man





Computer Programmers and

Comparative Advantage

G. Stolyarov II

Issue LXII- June 7, 2006


An article by Bill Belew of PanAsianBiz about the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest reveals some interesting results; the winner was a Russian team from Saratov State University, and teams from China, Japan, Korea, and Singapore were ahead of an American team from MIT—which placed twelfth. The facts are clear; now the question is how we should respond to them as either observers or participants. I will explain two different positions on this issue; one is the view of Dr. Belew. The other is the stance of a free-market economist.

Dr. Belew views the results as a sign that America is falling behind other countries in the skills of its programmers—which threatens to endanger economic opportunities in the future. India and China each produce triple the engineering graduates that the U.S. does—and this in itself is a deterrent to American programmers. “Why bother”—they would ask—“if the Indians and Chinese and Russians would outcompete us anyway?” This, according to Dr. Belew, is a self-reinforcing phenomenon: the American students’ lack of confidence in their success means that they are less likely to try as hard as aspiring Chinese or Indians or Russians.

There is a competing view, however, which does not view this development as negative at all. The free-market economists hold this view. It arises from David Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage: individuals and countries alike are better off when each individual specializes in what he does best and lets other individuals— including foreigners—take care of everything else. Associating thus, people would have the goods or services they produce best in their possession; they would be able to exchange them on a free market for any other goods or services they desire that somebody else will produce.

So—the free-market economist would say—if the Russian or Indian or Chinese programmers are better at what they do than American programmers, perhaps American students seeking to train in a profession should pick something that the Russians, Indians, or Chinese will not be able to do as well. Then, the foreign programmers could sell their services to Americans, and Americans could sell their services to foreigners. This is true of the division of labor among people from different households and cities; why is it also not true of the division of labor among people from different countries? There are many things that most Americans—as a rule—can do better than most foreigners; one of the skills which has predominated in America is the creation of ideas—even ideas relating to computers. The best programmers may be Russian, but Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Larry Ellison are all Americans; they have a lot to offer those with whom they trade and those whom they employ.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

See Dr. Belew's blog, PanAsianBiz, for news and discussions about business and current events in Russia and Asia.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue LXII Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.