David R. Henderson  

1470 Economists Say Immigration is Good for Us

The Undermotivated Apostate: T... Markets, Morals, and United Fl...
We view the benefits of immigration as myriad:

Immigration brings entrepreneurs who start new businesses that hire American workers.
Immigration brings young workers who help o set the large-scale retirement of baby boomers.
Immigration brings diverse skill sets that keep our workforce exible, help companies grow, and increase the productivity of American workers.
Immigrants are far more likely to work in innovative, job-creating elds such as science, technology, engineering, and math that create life-improving products and drive economic growth.

This is from "An Open Letter from 1,470 Economists on Immigration," published today. Among the singers are co-bloggers Bryan Caplan and Scott Sumner, and I.

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COMMENTS (33 to date)
Ray writes:

This isn't an overly controversial position. I daresay most everyone would agree...

Illegal immigration on the other hand...

Thomas writes:

It depends on who "us" is. I readily agree that immigration, in a world of free markets and no government handouts, is generally good (though not for everyone). But a pronouncement that "1470 economists say that immigration is good for us" is as scientifically meaningless as the supposed 97% consensus among scientists about AGW. It all depends on the objective function, the assumptions, and the facts. Please show your work.

Mike Hammock writes:
Among the singers are co-bloggers Bryan Caplan and Scott Sumner, and I.

I would love to hear David Henderson, Bryan Caplan, and Scott Sumner sing a song about the net benefits of immigration.

E. Harding writes:

It depends on who the immigrants are. Clearly the Million Migrant March was not good for Germany, and the 1980s-2000s tidal wave across the Mexican border does not appear to have been good for the United States. Of the fifteen states with declines in non-Hispanic White population between 2000 and 2010, five were in the top 10 states in immigrant share of the population in 2000. "Immigration" is a process which can be used for either good or bad. There's no point in praising it in general.

Immigration is not "one of America’s significant competitive advantages in the global economy"; that's its Anglo-Germanic old stock that build this country and its institutions. Any country can allow immigration. Very few countries can attract immigrants of respectable quality.

To be honest, I don't see the point of this letter. The President isn't proposing to ban all immigration, and Congress has no chance of ratifying such a ban.

I'm an actual immigrant, BTW.

E. Harding writes:

Oh, and of the five states in the top 10 states in immigrant share of the population in 2000 that had increases in the non-Hispanic White population between 2000 and 2010, four out of those five had something in common: they went for George W. Bush twice. Clearly, immigrants were not in control of their institutions in 2000.

The outlier was Hawaii.

Noah Carl writes:

Except a new report by the Danish government found that non-Western migrants are large net drain on the public purse:


Rich Berger writes:

I've got news for you, David, no one cares what 1,470 economists think on immigration.

patrick k writes:

This is another of the ongoing articles/propaganda conflating two separate issues---legal immigration and illegal immigration. Why not have another question for the economists. How many support unchecked illegal immigration and open borders? Let's have an honest discussion for once.

Jon Murphy writes:

Good to see so many Institutionalists on the list! My roommate and I often have great conversations on immigration (I'm Caplan-style open borders and he's more restricted). Most of our conversation revolves around institutional frameworks and how they could be affected by immigration. Glad I can say I can count Institutionalists like Acemoglu in my corner ;-)

pyroseed13 writes:

I have a hard time understanding the value of this letter. It treats all immigrants as a homogenous blob and argues that they are an unambiguously good thing for the economy. If the letter were talking about high skilled immigrants, I would agree wholeheartedly. But is the average immigrant more likely to work in STEM fields, be an entrepreneur, and bring in "diverse" skill sets? Probably not. Also, what exactly does this letter mean by "modernize" our immigration system? Would all of these economists favor transitioning to a merit-based system? Support E-Verify? It's telling how vague and unspecific this letter is when it comes to any policy proposals. I can only conclude therefore that the letter is designed to virtue-signal rather than accurately inform the public about the costs and benefits of immigration.

David R Henderson writes:

Rich Berger,
You're wrong.

Tom DeMeo writes:

The letter does come off as tone deaf.

Clearly, immigration is a powerful force for good in many circumstances. But the world is roiling over immigration issues at the moment, and a more sophisticated discussion is needed right now.

The economics profession needs to up its game.

Steve S writes:

I wonder how the line about "more likely to work in job-creating fields..." stayed in there. You should have stopped at the bit about improving productivity and dynamism. Immigration is still good even if it destroys jobs on net. Jobs are not an end unto themselves. I understand that is the language of politicians but economists should be steadfast in refusing to play to that narrative. Maybe this isn't the place, but still...

Andrew_FL writes:

Not one of whom has ever given serious consideration to the implications of open borders in a country that lets people vote.

Jon Murphy writes:

With respect to most of the commentators here, a lot of the issues y'all bring up have been addressed and discussed and debated and written on by open-border advocates. I object to statements that say we've not thought about issues like voting and welfare, etc.. I, and people far smarter than I, have written extensively on this. There was a Mercatus Center event just a few weeks ago with Chandran Kukathas where he addressed many of the objections raised. There's tons and tons of books, articles, blog posts, speeches, talks, seminars, research papers, etc addressing these matters. Gallons and gallons of ink (both digital and physical) have been spilled addressing these issues.

Jon Murphy writes:

@Patrick k:

This is another of the ongoing articles/propaganda conflating two separate issues---legal immigration and illegal immigration.

Well then, let's just repeal the immigration restriction acts and make all immigration legal. Boom, problem solved.

Andrew_FL writes:

Writing a lot words is not the same thing as giving something any thought.

Phil N writes:

Silly open letter. The US has had and continues to have a very generous immigration policy. Continuing that policy is not in dispute. The dispute arises over what we should do with illegal immigrants, a subject which the open letter avoids.

Jon Murphy writes:


Writing a lot words is not the same thing as giving something any thought.

Possible, but highly unlikely. Bryan Caplan, Don Boudreaux, David Henderson, and Steve Horwitz (some of the signers of the letter) are among some of the most thoughtful people I know (I know three of them personally and the fourth I've read a lot). I find it hard to believe that writers and thinkers as careful as them would give no thought whatsoever to immigration. And while I do not know all of the remaining 1466 signers of the letter, I have a hard time believing that, in a sample that large, you wouldn't find a single person who hasn't thought long and hard on the matter.

LK Tolman writes:

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Andrew_FL writes:

That's funny because I've never read a serious answer on reconciling open borders with democracy, only roundabout denials that any problem exists.

john hare writes:

It seems odd to me that so many advocate high skilled immigrant workers but draw the line at low skilled. In my experience, there are many that come here low skilled and work their way up. I know immigrants from many countries that came here with nothing and built successful lives from the ground up. I've also met some that justify walls.

I'm not an open borders advocate, more a rational borders fan.

Jon Murphy writes:


Can you be more specific of what you mean by "reconciling open borders with democracy?" Prima facie, I can't think of anything more democratic than I decide what I do with my property, you decide what to do with yours, and if I want to deal with people from another country, I can.

So, what exactly do you mean by your statement? That way, I can point you toward particulars (although, more generally, I highly recommend Open Borders: The Case).

Barkley Rosser writes:

I would have signed it if anybody had sent it my way.

R Schadler writes:

All this demonstrates is that over a thousand economists are a very strange group -- and probably shouldn't be listened to when they give policy advice. How many economists are in favor of "buying and selling"? Possibly all of them. But everything to anyone at all prices?
Sarin to children at $1 a pound?
An invading army and Einstein are putative "immigrants" in that they are crossing a political border to live in another country. Without particulars, the abstraction is simply silly.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Barkley Rosser,
I would have signed it if anybody had sent it my way.
Thanks, Barkley. Maybe you could get in touch with Douglas Holtz-Eakin and still sign. Who knows? We might get it to 2,000. If you need contact information, tell me and I’ll get it to you.

Hugh E. Brennan writes:

If we had mass immigration of economists, I am certain they would be demanding minefields, electric fences, and machine guns on the border. Mass immigration of the unskilled and uneducated has been a disaster for the bottom two quintiles of American workers. It has also destroyed the peace and tranquillity of communities across America- communities where academics don't live or raise children.

john hare writes:

@Hugh E. Brennan

I disagree with your second sentence in the strongest terms available. The ones I know took jobs that had been thrown away by the bottom quintile or two.

A high percentage of the lower quintile workers choose not to work hard hours in the sun. A high percentage choose not to do those things that would improve their value in the workplace. The exceptions tend to move up fairly rapidly.

Would you rather have immigrants pick tomatoes, or import them from the countries those immigrants came from?

If you can find a way to motivate the less fortunate citizens to go for it, the demand for immigrant workers will diminish overnight.

Bill writes:

I concur in full with the letter.
However, I agree with some commenters above who think that the letter is not responsive to the specific battlelines in current immigration debates, that Congress and the President and the media will be addressing.

I have spoken to many people suspicious of immigration as a general matter who concede that there are large swaths of immigrants with a propensity to be just like the letter says. So immigrations' benefits in a general sense aren't the real fault line for the issues being debated. The letter doesn't urge anyone to grapple with the fact that many immigrants with illegal status satisfy the characteristics in the letter and even many now "illegal" had legal status upon initial arrival. The letter treats only the broadest possible scope of the issue (e.g. better/more immigration vs less immigration) but it fails to address the (occasionally rational) distinction conservatives draw between "legal" and "illegal" immigration.

We liberals (classical) in economics need to convey more persuasively to lawmakers that "illegal" does not necessarily = "criminal" or "wrongful", which it seems to be that is the best achievable line that libertarians should expect to be drawn, given the state of general public perception. Few seriously doubt the vast economic benefits of freer immigration. Those that do are going to tend to have a disproportionate voice in the present Administration, & views amplified by the echo chamber of the media. My fear is that two camps will emerge before the public: the draconian camp ("Grr immigrants are all criminals") and the barn-door-wide-open camp, neither of which is popular with the public.
Economists need to publicly (in open letters like this one) help lawmakers see the rationale for drawing a distinction between beneficial individuals who migrate here (legal and "illegal"; high and ow skilled) and those who by a preponderance lack benefit (criminal histories, provable connections to radical elements) and once vetting checks out, shift enforcement resources to the latter.

R Schadler writes:

Is there any numerical limit to immigration over one year? Such as: one million, 10 million, 100 million, 1 billion???
There are many who view "our country" somewhat akin to how they view "our house"; so that you should positively approve of those who enter, as opposed to anyone who wants to come in.
Projecting utter contempt for political borders may be a valid sentiment, but it is contested by those who believe political borders have genuine meaning. And that meaning is represented by a visa policy. That still leaves the issue of have "liberal" the visa policy should be. But showing contempt for political borders probably means that any input on how liberal those policies should be will be shunned.

D Fenwick writes:

This note reminds me of the "97% of climate scientists" study that people quote. Some will believe one study, and not the other. Or will think both are wrong for one reason or another. Either way, they'll try to find some reason to invalidate the opinion of the scientists/economists because it doesn't fit into their fixed opinion.

David R. Henderson writes:

@R Schadler,
Is there any numerical limit to immigration over one year? Such as: one million, 10 million, 100 million, 1 billion???
Good question to which not I, or anyone, knows the answer. My guess is that transportation hassles plus inertia would make the number closer to 10 million than 100 million, but that’s just a guess. If you, like I, are concerned about too big a flow, then you could adopt the solution I favor: double the number of legal immigrants allowed in from about 1 million a year to 2 million a year. Live with that for a few years. Then, if no big problems are observed, double it again.
Projecting utter contempt for political borders may be a valid sentiment,
I would bet that most of the signers don’t have contempt for political borders. I certainly don’t, and I think I’m one of the more-radical of the signers.

David R. Henderson writes:

@D Fenwick,
This note reminds me of the "97% of climate scientists" study that people quote.
I don’t think it should. They’re pretty different. The 97%, it turns out, and David Friedman and I have both posted about this, was generated by a guy named Cook based on data that Mark Bahner, on this site, eviscerated. The economists’ statement on immigration, on the other hand, was signed by 1,470 identifiable economists. Their could be some ringers in there, but I would be willing to bet that at least 95% of them are bona fide economists.

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