Tag: immigrants

Should the U.S. Restrict Immigration?

Recent debates about Arizona’s new immigration law have taken as self-evident that immigration restrictions are good policy, with the only question being which level of government should enforce the law, and how. Yet the case for immigration restrictions is far from convincing.

Advocates of these restrictions rely on four possible arguments. First, that immigration dilutes existing languages, religions, family values, cultural norms, and so on. Second, that immigrants flock to countries with generous social welfare programs, leading to urban slums and inundated social networks. Third, that immigration can harm the sending country if the departing immigrants are high-skilled labor. Fourth, that immigration lowers the income of native, low-skill workers.

All of these arguments are wrong, overstated, or misguided. Immigration may change cultural values or norms, but nothing suggests this is a negative. Many societies flourish because they have incorporated new businesses, cultures, foods, and so on. More important, immigrants normally assimilate to the pre-existing culture provided government policy does not segregate them from the rest of society. In the past rich countries have incorporated large immigration flows with modest adjustment costs. Many of these immigrants lived in difficult conditions at first, but within a generation they achieved middle class status or better.

The possibility that immigration puts pressure on the welfare state is a reasonable concern, although existing evidence does not suggest this is a major problem. In any case, the possibility that a generous social safety net might encourage immigration is a reason to moderate this safety net, rather than a reason to restrict immigration. Indeed, expanded immigration might create pressure to keep the welfare state modest.

The risk that immigration drains high-skilled labor from poor countries is real, but this kind of immigration has positive impacts on the sending country that mitigate against any negatives. The possibility of migration to a high-wage country generates an incentive to acquire education, and only some of those educated actually leave. The threat of a brain drain nudges poor countries away from bad policies-such as excessive tax rates-that generate the brain drain in the first place. Many immigrants send remittances to friends or relatives in their country of origin. Plus, if borders were really open, many immigrants would seek education abroad but return to their home country, knowing they could leave if economic factors so dictated. Similarly, with open borders many immigrants would pursue temporary stays in higher wage countries. Temporary migration is common in many countries now, and was common in the U.S. before the tightening of immigration rules in the 1910s and 1920s. Temporary migration raises fewer of the standard concerns than permanent migration, while still helping many people in low-wage countries.

Concern for the poor, assuming this includes the poor in other countries, argues for vastly expanded immigration since many potential immigrants are much poorer than the natives whose wages they might depress. Only a bizarre view of equity favors people earning the minimum wage in rich countries over people near starvation in developing countries.

The conclusion that open borders is the best immigration policy is all the stronger because attempts to restrict immigration have their own negatives. These include the direct costs of border controls, the creation of a violent black market for immigration, and incentives for corruption. Further, immigration may have beneficial effects on productivity by fostering competition and introducing new ideas, approaches, business models, products, and so on. At the same time, many people in receiving countries enjoy the influence of new cultures. Immigrants also work at jobs for which the native supply is small.

Reasonable people can argue that immigration should increase gradually to moderate the transition costs. But any reasonable balancing implies vastly expanded immigration relative to current levels. This would improve the welfare of poor people in other countries far more than foreign aid.

C/P at psychologytoday.com

No One’s Property Is Safe in New York

Sad to say, but as expected, New York State’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, has just upheld yet another gross abuse of the state’s power of eminent domain, exercised by the Empire State Development Corporation on behalf of my undergraduate alma mater, Columbia University, against two small family-owned businesses, one of them owned by Indian immigrants. Details can be found in the press release just issued by the Institute for Justice, which filed an amicus brief in the case and has been in the forefront of those defending against such abuse across the country.

IJ has had success in obtaining eminent domain reform in over 40 states, but New York remains a backwater, where collusion between well-connected private entities and government is rampant, and the courts play handmaiden to the corruption by abdicating their responsibilities. Just one more example of why New York is an economic basket case, with a population that continues to flee to more hospitable climes. I’ve discussed the property rights issues more generally here.

Arizona Turns Immigrant Workers into Criminals

Lawmakers in Arizona must believe the state’s law enforcement officers have too much time on their hands.

A bill passed by the legislature yesterday will make it a misdemeanor to be in Arizona without proper immigration paperwork. It also directs Arizona police to question anyone about their immigration status if they have reason to suspect the person is in the country illegally. Failure to produce the proper documents could result in arrest, a $2,500 fine, and up to six months in jail.

Making and enforcing immigration law is a federal responsibility. State and local police should focus their resources on preventing crime and apprehending real criminals who pose a danger to public safety.

Police in Arizona seem to agree. According to an Associated Press report,

[The bill] is opposed by police chiefs, who worry that the law would be too costly, that it would distract them from dealing with more serious problems, and that it would sow such distrust among immigrants that they would not cooperate with officers investigating other crimes.

The right response to illegal immigration should be to change our laws to expand opportunities for legal immigration. As our numerous studies have shown, a comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress that included a robust temporary worker program would reduce illegal immigration, make the U.S. border more secure, and boost our economy.

Good Night, Lou Dobbs

In his CNN swan song last night, Lou Dobbs told his loyal if shrinking audience that important national issues

are now defined in the public arena by partisanship and ideology rather than by rigorous empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion. I will be working diligently to change that as best I can.

I would argue that his very act of resigning from his prime-time perch is probably the best contribution he’s made yet to advancing “rigorous empirical thought.”

Since he launched his program “Lou Dobbs Tonight” in 2003, the CNN anchor has been engaged in one long rant against immigration, free trade, and other populist bugaboos. His approach was anything but rigorous and empirical.

In a review of his 2004 book, Exporting America, I critiqued his flabby reasoning and questionable facts. (My new Cato book, Mad about Trade, is a painless, one-shot antidote to everything Dobbs has said about free trade, manufacturing, and the middle class.) The New York Times, “60 Minutes” and other mainstream news outlets have exposed such outrageous whoppers from Dobbs as his claim that immigrants have caused an explosion of leprosy cases and crime.

Dobbs was vague about his plans for the future last night, but there is some speculation that he will run for office, perhaps for president in 2012. I hope he does. It would be an interesting test of just how popular his sentiments really are among Main Street Americans.

Have Mexican Dishwashers Brought California to Its Knees?

workerAn article published this week by National Review magazine blames the many problems of California on—take a guess—high taxes, over-regulation of business, runaway state spending, an expansive welfare state? Try none of the above. The article, by Alex Alexiev of the Hudson Institute, puts the blame on the backs of low-skilled, illegal immigrants from Mexico and the federal government for not keeping them out.

Titled “Catching Up to Mexico: Illegal immigration is depleting California’s human capital and ravaging its economy,” the article endorses high-skilled immigration to the state while rejecting the influx of “the poorly educated, the unskilled, and the illiterate” immigrants that enter illegally from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Before swallowing the article’s thesis, consider two thoughts:

One, if low-skilled, illegal immigration is the single greatest cause of California’s woes, how does the author explain the relative success of Texas? As a survey in the July 11 issue of The Economist magazine explained, smaller-government Texas has avoided many of the problems of California while outperforming most of the rest of the country in job creation and economic growth. And Texas has managed to do this with an illegal immigrant population that rivals California’s as a share of its population.

Two, low-skilled immigrants actually enhance the human capital of native-born Americans by allowing us to move up the occupational ladder to jobs that are more productive and better paying. In a new study from the Cato Institute, titled “Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform,” this phenomenon is called the “occupational mix effect” and it translates into tens of billions of dollars of benefits to U.S. households.

Our new study, authored by economists Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer, found that legalization of low-skilled immigration would boost the incomes of American households by $180 billion, while further restricting such immigration would reduce the incomes of U.S. families by $80 billion.

That is a quarter of a trillion dollar difference between following the policy advice of National Review and that of the Cato Institute. Last time I checked, that is still real money, even in Washington.

As Immigrants Move In, Americans Move Up

Critics warn that immigration reform would bring in its wake rising rates of poverty, higher government welfare expenditures, and a rise in crime.

In a new paper, Cato scholar Daniel Griswold says that Congress should not reject market-oriented immigration reform because of misguided fears about “importing poverty.”

Griswold argues that “Comprehensive immigration reform that included a robust temporary worker program would boost economic output and create new middle class job opportunities for native-born Americans.”

For more, read the whole thing.