Bryan Caplan  

With Critics of Immigration Like This, Who Needs Advocates?

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Putin's Potemkin Dissertation... Are Low-Skilled Americans the ...

I occasionally quip that I like the whole range of economists from Mises to Krugman. We can squabble amongst ourselves, but it's amazing how much we really agree. Now Krugman is voicing doubts about immigration, but once again, he doesn't disappoint me. What's bad about immigration, according to Krugman?

First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

Horrors! Only a small gain to native-born Americans? Something's got to be done to fight this small gain.

Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration -- especially immigration from Mexico.... George Borjas and Lawrence Katz... estimate that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration.

My word, we could give high school dropouts as much as an 8 percent raise by deporting millions of desperate foreigners, and we haven't done it! How do we look at ourselves in the mirror?

As Homer would say, "In case you couldn't tell, I was being sarcastic!"


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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/481
The author at Mike Linksvayer in a related article titled No Inequality In My Backyard writes:
    I’ve been meaning to write about the recent larger than expected (very pleasant surprise) anti-anti-immigration rallies and in particular yesterday’s idiotic column from Paul Krugman (which I won’t link to as it is behind NYT’s ... [Tracked on March 29, 2006 12:41 AM]
COMMENTS (14 to date)
ricardo writes:

Was that in the Iliad?

Bill writes:

An 8% increase is not insignificant for those living from paycheck to paycheck.

If I ran a university, I would never hire a professor unless they had worked at least four years in the "real world"--a non-academic position. Lifetime academics are so out of touch with reality; especially those for whom mommy and daddy paid all the bills while they were in college.

Dezakin writes:

As someone that made under 15k a year outside the academic environment for about five years 8% was still rather insignificant to me.

Dobeln writes:

As pointed out elsewhere the 8 percent is merely the icing on the cake. A more reasonable summary would go something like this:

"So, we can have an entire percent higher income, if we just accept more murder, rape and robbery, worse schools, more slums, more ethnic hatred, more affirmative action, lower incomes for the poor, more drug gangs, secessionism, and bilingualism? Erm, thanks, but no thanks."

John S Bolton writes:

Krugman also said in that editorial, that "low-skilled immigrants don't pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive". This is a basic fact of the alternative welfare society; that low-income workers aggressively parasitize the net taxpayer. The NYT allows this to be spoken of, in the context of immigration, maybe twice in a century, which is momentous in itself.
To refrain from increasing the level of aggression in society, it is not necessary to deport everyone of a certain ethnic group. If there were rational arguments in support of increasing the level of aggression in society via immigration, it would not be necessary to pose false dilemnas, nor to insinuate slippery slopes to mass murder like the antiabortionists; nor yet to use ad hominem smears of the new left type: suggesting that only racists, fascists, nativists, beggar-thy-neighbor econonazis, could call an immigration cohort undesirable.

John S Bolton writes:

Not that all the above was done here; but in the next post up, one does see the move towards the full new left rhetorical approach. It still makes sense that officials should maximize per capita income ~intra~-nationally, while reducing aggression on the net taxpayer and the citizenry. The global utility cannot rationally be called their responsibility to even consider; over against the primary obligation not to increase aggression on those to whom they owe loyalty here.

Gary Rogers writes:

I can relate to those who are concerned with competition from immigrants. As a computer programmer, I have first hand experience with both off-shoring and competition from immigrants on H1B visas. The competition is definitely stiffer than it was several years ago and, given the choice, I would rather not have to face it. To be truthful, I would rather not have to work for my salary at all but reality prevails.

The result is that I adapt. I spend more time working on improving my skills and working to my strengths. I am more aware of the results that make me valuable to my employer and try to exploit those to both our advantage. I am surviving and by improving my skills and becoming more results oriented I have improved our economy just a little bit.

The key is that everyone adapts and that free an open competition provides opportunities for adaptation through a more diverse and vibrant economy. On the other hand, attempts to protect jobs or salaries through legislation or closed borders have proven to be disastrous polocies over time.

Most anti-immigration sentiment is to protect our jobs. I hope we can all be wise enough to recognize that protecting jobs in the short term may be tempting, but it will make us all worse off in the future.

Gary Rogers writes:

In reply to John Bolton, who says that we should provide lots of benefits to immigrants? Reducing benefits is different than sending all immigrants back home or preventing them from entering the country.

Taeyoung writes:

The point of the 8% and fraction of 1% comparison is to shoot down the nonsense pro-illegal-immigration forces sometimes spout about how illegal immigration does not exert downward pressure on wages, and does not injure any domestic American class. Which (at least if we believe Krugman) is simply not true. At all. The laws of supply and demand do, shockingly enough, apply in the case of illegal immigrants just as for the natives and the legal immigrants.

Put another way, suppose we were enforcing existing laws. Would it be right to invite in 11 million people, so the middle class could get a 0.5% increase in their standard of living, at the expense of an 8% decrease in the standard of living of the lower classes?

Now, you may think so (I think you oppose minimum wage laws anyhow, right?) but the widespread popularity of social security nets and minimum wage laws and the like makes pretty clear to me that pulling out a 0.5% gain in their own lives at the expense of (on the backs of) the living standards of the poorest among their fellow Americans probably sounds awfully callous to the majority of the public. Why? Is it because they're economically illiterate, and don't realise they could be realising this stupendous 0.5% increase in their income!?

No.

Or at least, probably not. It's likely because they feel that, as citizens of the USA, they have more of a duty to their fellow citizens (e.g. the poor ones) than they have to the impoverished of Mexico (or of the Sudan, or of Bangladesh, etc.). So they're willing to suffer some slight degradation in their own living standards in order to fund welfare or sustain a minimum wage law (leaving aside whether the minimum wage law boomerangs back to hurt lower classes themselves), or restrict illegal immigration, to help those fellow citizens.

Now, you dismiss these "low-skilled Americans," and think they ought to be grateful for what they've got, and that people ought to roll their eyes at solicitude for their interests. And that's fine for you to do. But it's not at all surprising to me that people are going to differ from you on this point, when it comes to the situation of their fellow countrymen, however mean their estate. Their fellow countrymen who are, after all, their slacker sons and daughters.

Further, as a practical matter, it's unlikely that we could manage total expulsion of the illegal immigrant population anyhow -- this is not mediaeval France or Spain, and they are not the Jews. The more likely outcome is that we simply begin enforcing immigration more regularly, e.g. by improving border surveillance and tracking people's visas more assiduously. And maybe deporting illegal immigrants who commit felonies.

Your line about "deporting millions of desperate foreigners" depends, for its rhetorical effect, on the idea of depriving people who have enjoyed a benefit of that benefit, rather like taking candy from a small child -- something widely considered unpleasant and bad. The more probable outcome -- simply not giving that benefit to people (i.e. letting them remain under the rule of their corrupt oligarchs and tyrannical dictators and socialist quacks etc.)-- may be, in a universalist moral sense (i.e. one that considers the desirability of a particular policy from the standpoint of the human race as a whole) undesirable. But the American public has no problem with that that I can see.

When it comes to military affairs, for example, we could, I have no doubt, improve the lot of much of the world if we were willing simply to topple entrenched oligarchies and dictatorships hither and yon (mostly in Africa and the Near East). But the example of Iraq, in the polls, shows us that we're not especially eager to do that. I doubt we would be, even if the outcome of freer societies the world over (or at least, less entrenched dictatorships) were demonstrably to our economic benefit. We're "tribal," in a sense, and quite happy with it -- concerned with our welfare as a people, not merely as individuals in a denationalised market.

Robert Speirs writes:

These immigrants are not "desperately poor". 95% of illegal Mexican immigrants in the US had jobs back in Mexico. And the big problem is that a large portion of the illegal Mexicans have no allegiance whatever to the United States. They have openly advocated the incorporation of US territory into the Mexican state. Of course that would instantly destroy the prosperity of those parts of the country, but hey, who's thinking? Add to that the fact that Mexico forbids illegal immigration into Mexico, with no right of appeal or recourse and you start to wonder, "If illegal immigrants are such a good deal, why are we the only country that lets them in?"

Matt writes:

Bill,

Caplan's knowledge is not useful in the real world so it makes no sense for him to be employed there. But in academia, his skills are fitting... as they are, well, academic.

Robert writes:

A (legal) Mexican co-worker says of his illegal fellow nationals, that most take little interest in learning English or otherwise assimilating, or in their children doing so, because most believe that at some point in the future, they will return to Mexico ... but in truth very few return to Mexico.

In this context, tighter border security has the unintended consequence of keeping illegal immigrants who do not wish to assimilate and do wish to return to their country of birth in the country. If in the process of living in the United States illegally, a person has accumulated more to lose in the attempt to return, it is not surprising that the actual date of the planned return becomes indefinitely postponed.

John S Bolton writes:

An adult foreigner walking into a alternative-welfarocracy hands himself an implicit medical insurance policy, with premiums, paid by others, worth thousands a year. There is no conceptual sorting that will unlink these effects.
Likewise the police, courts and prisons' cost per person additional of 500$ a year.
Even if one imagines a helot class of foreign residents who would be left to die at the door to emergency rooms, by operation of some law; we still have to be very restrictive of immigration now.
This is because an immigration cohort in today's circumstance will increase the aggression on the net taxpayer. Why should immigrants be treated as sacred monkeys whose actions are outside morality; doesn't that subhumanize them?
The implication seems to be that the immigrant can never be considered morally responsible for increasing the aggression on the net taxpayer through the taking of net public subsidy.
In actuality, though, the immigrant can greatly reduce the burden he places on the net taxpayer; by not having children until his income permits him to do so without using net public subsidy, for example.
Instead of asking this of him, it is pretended that he is exempt from morality, just because he is foreign.
A traitorism has grown and metastatized to such extent, that officials and their scholars show loyalty to the immigrant who increases the aggression on the net taxpayer. This, in spite of their owing loyalty to their fellow national, the net taxpayer, over against the foreigner who is attacking him thus.

Carter writes:

Why don't you explain how Milton Friedman was wrong when he said "you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state"?

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