Arnold Kling

Debating Demographics

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
Previous Entry Next Entry

Is the current rate of immigration good for America? Both sides of the issue are presented in this American Enterprise Institute debate. Pat Buchanan says,

Harvard economist George Borjas has found no net economic benefit from mass migration from the Third World. In his study, the added costs of schooling, health care, welfare, prisons, plus the added pressure on land, water, and power resources, exceeded the taxes that immigrants pay.

On the other hand, Ben Wattenberg says,

If America doesnít continue to take in immigrants, it wonít continue to grow in the long run. If the Europeans and Japanese donít start to accept more immigrants they will evaporate. Who will empty the bedpans in Italyís retirement homes?

Rhetoric aside, there is widespread agreement about some important facts, which can be found in this February 6 brief from the Census Bureau. For example,

  • from 1990 to 2000 the U.S. population increased by 13 percent compared with 2.5 percent for other more-developed countries combined.
  • In 2000, a majority of children under the age of five lived in less-developed countries.
  • Between 2000 and 2025, the population of the less-developed countries is expected to increase by 35 percent, the population of the U.S. is expected to increase by 23 percent, and the population of the remaining more-developed countries is expected to remain flat.
  • By 2025, the elderly population in the United States will have increased by nearly 80 percent, with only a 15 percent increase in working-age adults. (Folks, this is the social security crisis, and as I have pointed out, no politician's lock-box or financial gimmick is going to change it.)

Discussion Question. The quote from Buchanan implies that we can value immigrants according to whether or not the taxes they pay cover the government services they require. Even if you accept this approach, is it not likely to overstate the negatives of immigration, because as time passes the immigrants and their families are likely to pay more taxes and require fewer social services?

Return to top