Minimum Wages, Immigration, and the Rise of the Machines

|

A Washington Post editorial today takes up the question of whether (and to what extent) illegal immigrants depress wages for low-skilled workers by flooding the market with cheap low-skill labor. It cites Harvard's George Borjas, who argues [PDF] that wages for high-school dropouts are 7.4 percent lower than they'd be without immigration, as a "pessimist" on the question, though as Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias have both argued, even when you're just looking at workers (as opposed to consumers and employers, who obviously benefit), that still makes it a massively winning proposition on net unless you decide to just not count in your calculus the welfare of people with the bad luck to be born on the wrong side of the border.

On the more optimistic end, the Post cites a paper by Berkeley economist David Card [PDF] which compares high-immigration and low-immigration cities and finds a negligible wage effect. Here's how the Post sums up his findings:

In low-immigration cities, it seems, employers don't necessarily respond to a paucity of low-skilled workers by bidding up wages to attract more of them. Instead, they may respond by investing in machinery that allows three low-skilled workers to do what six might do in a high-immigration city. Construction workers get extra trucks and power tools; gardeners get electric trimmers instead of manual shears.

Now, what's interesting here is that Card is most famous for being the co-author, with Alan Krueger, of a pair of controversial studies comparing fast food restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and concluding that Jersey's minimum wage hike hadn't lowered employment. (This is typically cited as proving that "minimum wages don't cause unemployment," which is a ridiculously broad claim no sane economist would make: Of course minimum wages at some level will cause unemployment. But the studies did purport to find that you could get away with moderate hikes from current levels without an unemployment effect.)

The curious bit is that the immigration and minimum wage questions seem like they ought to be mirror images of each other. In other words, if a relative shortage of unskilled labor leads employers to substitute capital for labor rather than bidding up wages to the level necessary to do the job with a higher number of unassisted people, then why don't they do the same thing in the face of minimum wage hikes? Presumably, employers don't care why labor is costlier, just that it is.

The simplest explanation is that one study or the other is just wrong. Another possibility is that the magnitude of the difference in wages that would be necessary for employers to attract enough workers is greater than the hike Card and Kruger looked at. If that seems unlikely in light of the relatively small effect even Borjas claims, bear in mind that employers in most cases are going to have to raise wages for all their workers, not just the marginal ones, to attract that marginal worker. That is, imagine an employer can do the same job with either 75 unskilled workers, or 50 plus machines. At $5/hr, the employer can only fill 50 jobs; to attract 75, she'd have to pay $6/hr. But since it'd probably be hard to wage-discriminate here and only pay $6/hr to those additional 25 workers, she's going to have to raise the wage she's paying the original 50 workers by $1/hr too. That makes the labor/capital substitution that much more attractive. But now assume the minimum wage is raised to $6/hr. That $1/hr raise for the 50 workers becomes, in effect, a sunk cost. Which means that the additional cost of going with the 75-workers-no-machines option becomes lower, so depending on the cost of the machines, that might now make it the more attractive option.

A simpler possibility, though—and one I find both the most plausible and the most interesting—is that you've got significantly more leeway for labor/capital substitution in sectors like landscaping and construction (to pick the two examples the Post uses) than in fast food restaurants. There might just not be that many cost-effective ways to automate a short-order kitchen so that fewer employees can do more work, beyond what most restaurants of that sort have already done. That's a possibility worth investigating, because it would imply that even if Card and Kruger's results for New Jersey restaurants are correct, they're of limited application. The same wage hike that has relatively little effect on fast food restaurants might cause significant labor/capital substitution in other sectors.

Advertisement

NEXT: Before You Think, Vote!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This study bolsters my opinion that low wages have the perverse effect to retard technological advancement, by suppressing the market for it.

    And that makes unconscious luddites of those who maintain that rising wages cause unemployment.

    Sure, containers did ravages to the stevedores’ union. Should we have kept shipping the old way?

  2. Mexico has more millionaires than Germany and vast natural resources. Surely they can take care of those with the “bad luck to be born on the wrong side of the border”, right?

    Well, not exactly. Massive illegal immigration has given them a safety valve that helps them avoid reforms.

    And, many towns in Mexico have been severly damaged by losing their workers.

    Perhaps their luck would be better if Mexico were forced to reform.

    As for us, illegal immigration leads to massive political corruption as politicians do the bidding of those companies that profit off illegal immigration.

    And, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of foreign citizens marching in our streets demanding rights to which they aren’t entitled.

    If they make demands we aren’t willing to give, what happens?

    All the economic arguments make little sense if we’re forced to capitulate to the demands of foreign citizens or face dire consequences.

  3. We also have to consider that undocumented workers don’t just lower the employer’s costs by bidding down wages. Paying people off the books can also mean less overhead, and less hassle with payroll taxes, and all of the other things (some mandated by law, others not so much) that go with hiring people formally rather than informally.

    So it isn’t just about shaving money off of hourly costs. There are also administrative savings.

    Machines also tend to carry less overhead than hourly workers. (Sure, there are clearly exceptions.) So perhaps employers would rather replace one low-overhead production technique (undocumented immigrants) with another low-overhead production technique (machinery).

    In which case, undocumented workers aren’t really competing with low-skilled US citizens. They’re competing with machines.

    Which makes it rather appropriate that the Terminator is governor of California.

  4. “Instead, they may respond by investing in machinery that allows three low-skilled workers to do what six might do in a high-immigration city. Construction workers get extra trucks and power tools; gardeners get electric trimmers instead of manual shears.”

    In the long run wages must equal productivity. By investing in capital productivity rises and thus wages can then rise. By allowing an endless flood of cheap immigrant labor, the country is discouraging investiment in capital and thus helping to ensure that the jobs the immigrants take remain low skill, low productivity, low wage jobs. In other words helping to create a large, low skill, low productivity under-class. That is not a good thing.

  5. Mr. Sanchez, you write:

    …if a relative shortage of unskilled labor leads employers to substitute labor for capital rather than bidding up wages to the level necessary to do the job with a higher number of unassisted people…

    I may be having a brain freeze day here, but shouldn’t that be “substitute capital for labor”?

  6. John, what is your opinion of outsourcing and globalization?

  7. The low skill, low productivity underclass exists anyway. If you don’t allow an endless flood of cheap immigrant labor, that class just lives in Mexico.

  8. The examples of capital investment, “power tools,” “electric trimmres instead of manual shears,” are the kind of thing it would be worth investing in at almost any wage paid in America. When was the last time you a professional contractor who didn’t use power tools?

  9. Illegal cheap labor is nothing but a business subsidy. Not only does it retard techological change but it produces large externalities that are shifted to tax payers, most of whom don’t benefit much from the cheap labor (a few cents on a head of lettuce doesn’t add up to much).

  10. In which case, undocumented workers aren’t really competing with low-skilled US citizens. They’re competing with machines.

    thoreau, are you seriously advocating that we make illegal aliens compete against killer robots on Battlebots? Wow, never expected that one from you 😉

  11. Massive illegal immigration has given them a safety valve that helps them avoid reforms.

    And if the immigration were legal, it would be different? Huh?

    And, many towns in Mexico have been severly damaged by losing their workers.

    How can immigration (well, actually “emigration”) be a safety valve that prevents the need for reform when it is “severely damaging”?

    Damn Mexicans just screw up no matter what they do! At least according to the Wackster.

  12. I’ve been thinking about thoreau’s “competing with the machines” remark. Maybe the way we deal with illegal immigration is to send one Battlebot over the border for each illegal who enters the U.S. Fair is fair–if Mexico wants “open” borders, so be it.

  13. The low skill, low productivity underclass exists anyway. If you don’t allow an endless flood of cheap immigrant labor, that class just lives in Mexico.

    Indeed. And note that, as evidenced by the wages they make, they are significantly less productive in Mexico, lowering gross world product.

    People who argue against free migration point to some small segment of society who are harmed by it. What is left unsaid is that everybody else in the whole world is better off because of it.

  14. Pro Liberace:

    Only if thay battlebot is programmed to infiltrate mexico, take the shit jobs nobody else wants, and then cause mass hysteria because self-aggrandizing beaurotrash take advantage of an underlying cultural xenophobia within the populace, merely to further their political careers. THEN it would be fair.

  15. Barbar,

    Many poor countries have nothing to offer but unskilled labor. If the markets are sufficiently open and the government good enough to allow economic growth, that labor translates into low skill, low producitivty, low wage jobs. Eventually, if you grow enough the labor supply gets tighter and companies start to invest in capital and productiveity and wages start to rise.

    Doesn’t it make sense to bring the jobs to the people through open markets rather than the people to the jobs? For example, why are we growing our vegitables in California and the West will illegal immigrant labor, when if we got rid of subsidies the vegitibles would be grown in Mexico and the immigrants wouldn’t have to leave their homes to work them? Through our current policy of open borders and protectionism, we are importing people to do jobs that could be more efficently done in other countries. It makes more sense to me to open the markets and let the jobs go to the people. This would do two things. First, it would help Latin American economies because the wages these people earned would stay in their homes. Second, it would save the U.S. the social costs of immigration.

  16. “The low skill, low productivity underclass exists anyway. If you don’t allow an endless flood of cheap immigrant labor, that class just lives in Mexico.”

    I heard some hack on Day to Day the other day who called for active recruitment of higher-skilled immigrant workers into the US. His rationale is that this would be “more fair”, because it would hit the middle-to-upper class of America—which are typically immune to threats posed to their jobs by illegal immigrants.

    This is where the debate has come to. If we can’t stop illegal immigration, then we should “balance” it, so it hits all the classes equally. Sigh.

  17. How can immigration (well, actually “emigration”) be a safety valve that prevents the need for reform when it is “severely damaging”?

    Very simple Fyador, all that is left behind are the old people and dependents. All of the healthy working age people are gone working in the U.S. and everyone else is either really poor but too old and frail to leave or living off of remintences from relatives in the U.S..

    This system does two things. First, it makes it hard for Mexico to develop economiclly since a huge portion of its young and abmitious have left the country. Second, since anyone who is screwed by the current system and has any ambition can just leave and go to the United States, there is no incentive for reform. If you deported all 10 million or so illegal Mexicans in the U.S. and turned them loose on Mexico, the elites would have a big problem on their hands explaining why it is that they are rich yet no one else seems to have a job. As it is they never have to explain anything because anyone who doesn’t like it can just leave for the U.S.

  18. It makes more sense to me to open the markets and let the jobs go to the people.

    Since there is nothing mutually exclusive about open borders and open markets, there is no rational reason to compare them against each other. Open them both up!!

    Regarding the “safety valve,” I’ll admit I misunderstood what that was supposed to mean exactly. But is there any evidence that corrupt regimes are less likely to reform when their populations are more likely emigrate? And vice versa? I doubt it.

  19. gardeners get electric trimmers instead of manual shears.

    Dallas may not be what they mean by ‘high immigration cities’ but I can’t immagine that it’s very low. Certainly 90% or more of landscaping workers are hispanic immigrants around here. And they’ve all got gas leaf blowers, electric hedge trimmers, and gas weed/edge trimmers.

  20. Sounds reasonable, Evian. We’re halfway there, now that robots can drive cars by themselves through the desert. Think how welcome such robots would be to Mexican politicians: “Vote for me! Only I know how to stop the robot menace”.

  21. TLB: we’ve got hundreds of thousands of foreign citizens marching in our streets demanding rights to which they aren’t entitled.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you know that those who marched were foreign citizens? Did someone survey them?

  22. In the long run wages must equal productivity. By investing in capital productivity rises and thus wages can then rise. By allowing an endless flood of cheap immigrant labor, the country is discouraging investiment in capital and thus helping to ensure that the jobs the immigrants take remain low skill, low productivity, low wage jobs

    Nice point John. However, there is another outlet for many employers, and they are taking it, namely outsourcing labor in foreign countries. If low skill labor costs in the US (I am making these numbers up for illustration purposes) are 10 times that of Mexico with no immigration at all, 8 times Mexican wages at our current status, and 6 times Mexican wages if we triple our immigartion of low skill workers, what does that do to employers?

    10x= more machines or more outsourcing than the alternatives. 8x= fewer machines and less outsourcing than 10, but more than at 6x. 6x= considerably less outsourcing and considerably fewer machine replacements than 10x, and simply less of both than at 8x.

    Force employers to pay more, and they will employ more machines to do work humans used to do, and at some point the calculus shifts, and a whole bunch of people of various skill levels get laid off (or never employed in the first place) and those jobs go to Mexico. Thus this huge pool of unskilled foreign labor dampens US wages for unskilled US workers regardless of whether or not we have more or less unskilled immigration.

    This is already happening in high skill jobs. There physically aren’t enough engineers and programmers etc. in the US to do everything that US capital wants them to do. Therefore more and more employers of high skill workers are setting up shop overseas and employing workers there. If they were here they would be high wage workers (relative to the rest of the US), and high spending consumers, and high saving individuals. Their consumer purchases would be in the US, and thus being spent disproportionately on goods made by Americans. Their savings would be disproportionately in the US, thus creating a lower cost of capital for would-be homeowners and businesses. Also they would be using overhead in the US at work, thus effectively raising wages and/or employment in US construction, building material suppliers, office equipment suppliers etc.

    But if they are overseas then the bulk of their savings, spending, and overhead costs will be used to benefit foreigners.

    The same thing in effect takes place with low skill laborers too, just that it is harder to conceptualize. Now obvously we can’t outsource our consumer purchases of McDonald’s, but when low skill jobs like textile work goes overseas, those former textile workers in the US go into roughly the same labor pool as McDonald’s employees, thus in effect outsourcing the labor for fast food and other industries that one might think were immune from overseas outsourcing. All without a single immigrant mind you.

  23. If they were here they would be high wage workers (relative to the rest of the US), and high spending consumers, and high saving individuals

    By the way, I meant that all of the above would be relative to the rest of Americans overall in absolute numbers, not in percentage terms. I have no idea if they would save more as a percentage of their income, but if the current US savings rate is to be believed, then it is likely. This is neither here nor there for my argumnet though.

  24. Fyador, if you have open borders the jobs never get outsourced because it is easier for the employers to have the production here rather than move it overseas and have to ship the goods back the U.S. Of course the companies don’t bear the social costs of having a perminent underclass. There are social costs to having large nubmers of low wage workers. Do you really want the meat packing plants and truck farms here or in Mexico? I would rather pay more for beef and have them in Mexico.

    Interesting points juggler. Ultimately though, you can’t get around the fact that some people have low skills and need entry level jobs. Whether those jobs are textiles or McDonalds doesn’t make much difference. The problem arises when you purposely import large numbers of low skilled workers.

  25. I think John’s got it about right. My pet example is the job in the chicken processing plant that “no American will take”. Illegal labor removes the incentive to invest in machinery to do that job with fewer, more-skilled workers.

    And we already import large numbers of highly skilled immigrants into this country. I’m sure it’s done a lot to offset the economic damage caused by our elected representatives.

  26. John,

    That’s some interesting social engineering you’re advocating there. Well, I’m sure I won’t convince you, but I don’t mind if meat packing plants move to the U.S. as long as they’re held accountable for pollution externalities. Also, what makes you so sure that people are more willing to leave their home and their culture than businesses are to relocate? There are incentives and resistant forces for both to do either (move or stay put). Let the free market decide, that’s what’s most fair, and efficient. Permanent underclass??? I guess the history of immigration doesn’t matter. Preventing citizenship is the biggest factor in immobility. As for businesses not paying the costs, businessman pay taxes just like everyone else, more so for corporations. What you’re saying is very arbitrary. Anyway, I would agree that opening markets and ending subsidies are good things, whatever is or is not done about immigration.

  27. Sulla,
    Have you ever been in a chicken processing plant? I have. You’ll have to believe me when I say that there are certain parts of the process that would be extremely difficult to automate with machines. Plus, much of the process IS automated. I was also surprised to find out how much the workforce (mixed latino/local) was paid. For the area (Harrisonburg, VA), it wasn’t so bad. Not much opportunity for advancement and some of the jobs were horrific (truly), but the pay was adequate to the area.

    Of course, this goes right back to the “What would a strawberry picking machine look like?” question that I posed a couple of days ago. There are some (perhaps only temporary)limits to techne.

  28. when low skill jobs like textile work goes overseas, those former textile workers in the US go into roughly the same labor pool as McDonald’s employees

    What is stopping these people from gaining more marketable and valuable job skills?

    The flood of cheap immigrant labor should work to make these people better off. The lowered wages for all of those lovely, low skill fruit picking jobs is a market signal that tells these folks to rethink their career choices. The logical result of this is that these folks will seek more education and step up a rung or two on the job ladder. Most low wage jobs aren’t very pleasant so they also make a gain in quality of life.

    The only things that really hold the bulk of these people back is willful ignorance and laziness. Do people in America have some kind of right to lousy, low skill McJobs?

  29. Sulla,

    chicken processing plants
    + excess battlebot population
    ——————————
    = problem solved

  30. There might just not be that many cost-effective ways to automate a short-order kitchen so that fewer employees can do more work, beyond what most restaurants of that sort have already done

    Not true! As technology advances & prices fall and labor prices rise, there’s a larger area of convergence that makes more inovation possible. I thought it was in these very pages I read about fast food restaurants (McD’s I think) experimenting with outsourcing their drivethrough ordering from high cost of living, high minimum wage areas (like CA, NY & HI) to low cost, federal minimum wage areas like North Dakota, where people not only tend to work for cheaper, but understand & speak english a bit better.

  31. None of these things are black and white. Sure, the cheaper labor is, the less investment there’ll be in technology, and vice versa. But to claim that as a reason to restrict legal immigration is specious. How many of those making this argument would advocate increasing the minimum wage for the same reason? Hmmmm? I don’t see any hands up! And for good reason. Allowing people and businesses to make their own decisions unhindered by coercion leads to the best and most efficient decisions by all parties. You wouldn’t want your freedom restricted for your own good, and nobody else does either.

  32. Permanent underclass??? I guess the history of immigration doesn’t matter.

    Fyador, of course individuals move up the ladder and it is not the same group of people who work the low skilled jobs. The problem is that once those individuals leave and move up the ladder, they are replaced by new immigrants. Its not that we have a perminant underclass in that its the same people all the time, it is that we have a perminent set of low skilled, low wage people who constitute an underclass. It would be better if that low skilled group stayed home and helped their home countries rather than coming here. As far as social engineering goes, yes I think the U.S. would be a much more pleasant place if some of the dirtier but necessary industries were located overseas along with their labor. I don’t want to live next to a meat packing plant and I also would prefer not to have 500 million people in the United States. I like open spaces. If I wanted to live in Manilla or Mexico City, I would move there. I would prefer they not come to me.

  33. fyodor,

    Maybe I’m living in the bizarro universe here or something, I don’t know, but I was under the impression that cheaper labor frees up $$$ for further capital investment. Cheaper labor should actually lead to more investment in technology.

    I can see how the opposite could be true in a coerced system that actually leads to more capital investment. If a business owner has to pay low skilled laborers more than their market value because of minimum wage laws, it may be more cost effective to invest in machines, train a few of the workers to use the new machinery (or bring in new labor), and fire the rest. Of course, this supposes that the employer is able to replace the workers with efficient machinery.

  34. I was under the impression that cheaper labor frees up $$$ for further capital investment.

    c, you’re right, it would have that effect as well. But that only reinforces my main point that allowing lower labor costs allows for more efficiency and therefore more wealth.

    It would be better if that low skilled group stayed home and helped their home countries rather than coming here.

    John, better for whom? The way you put this implies that you want to coerce people for their own goood. I think people can decide for themselves what’s in their own good.

    I like open spaces, too. But I don’t think my preference in that regard trumps the freedom of movement of people whose only “crime” is to want to better themselves.

  35. Fyodor,

    The United States is a sovereign nation and has every right to have borders. It has an obligation to act in the best interests of its own citizens. As such it does not owe the rest of the world the right to come here. You are argueing that everyone in the world has a right to be an American no matter how that effects those of us who already are Americans. I will not give up national soverignty to that degree. Further, the sollution to misery is for people to fix the governments and the economies of where they live. Exporting all of the young and ambitous to the United States in lieu of real reform is not doing the world any good. In fact, allowing such impedes reform by eliminating much of the pressure for it.

  36. John wrote: “I think the U.S. would be a much more pleasant place if some of the dirtier but necessary industries were located overseas along with their labor. I don’t want to live next to a meat packing plant and I also would prefer not to have 500 million people in the United States. I like open spaces. If I wanted to live in Manilla or Mexico City, I would move there. I would prefer they not come to me.”

    Wikipedia has an interesting table of city population densities, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_selected_cities_by_population_density.

    Manila is high on the list (41,000 per square km, as opposed to 24,000 in Paris and 13,000 in Tokyo). But Mexico City doesn’t appear. I think I heard once that it’s an unusually sprawling city, so less density would make sense.

    Anyway, you have your choice of densities and neighbors in the US now and would still have it with open borders. Some people like living in Brooklyn, some people like living in suburbia, and some people like living in northern Vermont or Montana. Some people will pay a lot for a buffer, some people won’t. If your priority is not to be subjected to proximity to “it” or “them,” you will always have that option.

  37. Help me out here – the socially liberal/fiscally conservative libertarians are endorsing a policy that will facilitate the addition of millions of fiscally liberal/socially conservative voters to the voter roles, who will almost certainly take the opposing position on virtually every issue near and dear to the hearts of libertarians. This will be regarded, for reasons known but to libertarians and God Himself, as a major advance for the libertarian cause.

    Gotcha.

    Something tells me the libertarians are going to wind up becoming the political equivalent of the Shakers.

    btw, how do you say “The Party of Knuckleheads” in Spanish?

  38. Exporting all of the young and ambitous to the United States in lieu of real reform is not doing the world any good. In fact, allowing such impedes reform by eliminating much of the pressure for it.
    John, fuck the world. Is this not good for the US? Or is it bad to have a nation full of young, ambitious sorts? Who does it impede reform for, the rest of the world or US?

    You are argueing that everyone in the world has a right to be an American no matter how that effects those of us who already are Americans. I will not give up national soverignty to that degree.
    What gave your forefathers the right to be Americans? What gives you the right to preferential treatment? Do you own America? How does immigration affect national sovereignty? Is Vicente Fox now dictating rules and regulations for you or any of the rest of us?

  39. The United States is a sovereign nation and has every right to have borders.

    Rights are something people have, not nations.

    I will not give up national soverignty to that degree.

    What does our immigration policy have to do with sovereignty? The US military will still guard the US from coercive takeover by foreign governnments and Americans, whoever and however many they are and whereever they come from, will continue to choose our government, which will continue to make the decisions of governance. See, no threat to sovereignty.

    All your rationalizations and gobbledeegook won’t change the fact that crossing a border violates no one’s rights and penalizing it makes it a victimless crime.

    Pig Mannix,

    By your logic, we shouldn’t have granted the right to vote to women or blacks. If you argue that that’s different because they were citizens, you’ve simply changed your argument. Bottom line, if you believe in liberal principles, you don’t advocate illiberal policies designed to gerry-rig a liberal voting electorate. (Please note I’m using “liberal” here in its “classic” sense.)

  40. Pig Mannix,

    We libertarians tend to pride ourselves on our ability to consistently act on principle. It is a great strength in everyday life even if it is a political weakness. It is what separates us from modern liberals and conservatives. I makes us better than them. It also keeps us from seizing any great amount of the power they wield. Unfortuneately, there is no real place in Washington for honesty or for men who will consistently do the right thing.

  41. “Just out of curiosity, how do you know that those who marched were foreign citizens? Did someone survey them?”

    They were obviously mostly a bunch of law-breaking, border busting Canadians. Are you dim-witted, or what?

  42. By your logic, we shouldn’t have granted the right to vote to women or blacks.

    Actually, it was by my logic that blacks were given the right to vote. The Republicans (who were in poser at the time) were the ones who were the major beneficiaries of blacks having the vote.

    Bottom line, if you believe in liberal principles, you don’t advocate illiberal policies designed to gerry-rig a liberal voting electorate. (Please note I’m using “liberal” here in its “classic” sense.)

    Robert Frost once remarked that a liberal is someone who is so open-minded, he can’t take his own side in an argument. 😉

    Tell me this – if the immigrants in question were radical muslims intent on imposing Sharia law (democratically, of course) or Communists intent on imposing Communism, would you still maintain that argument?

    Maintaining the integrity of your political system is a perfectly legitimate reason for restricting immigration.

    What’s the point of implementing a political system which will self-destruct?

  43. Well, Pig Mannix, the Founding Fathers had a sort of constant destruction/reconstruction thing written into our government, what with the short terms for many offices and whatnot. What they did not forsee was people wanting to make careers out of being politicians.

    They also probably couldn’t have envisioned our country lasting as long as it has, anyway.

  44. So, if we opened the borders, does anyone have a reasonable estimate of the number of migrants that would enter the US? I could easily see the population growing to one billion or more in a matter of decades.

  45. Well, turning to my trusty World Almanac, the 2005 US population was supposed to be about 296 million. All of North America and South America combined in 2005 was supposedly about 883 million. The projected total North & South America in 2025 is 1.07 billion. So, if the entire population of these two continents moved into the US, we’d supposedly just crack a billion in 20 years. Of course, that’s not counting the Chinese (1.4 billion by 2025) and the Indians (1.36 billion by 2025). If all of them came over, then we’re talking 3.83 billion in the year 2025.

  46. C said:

    “Maybe I’m living in the bizarro universe here or something, I don’t know, but I was under the impression that cheaper labor frees up $$$ for further capital investment. Cheaper labor should actually lead to more investment in technology.”

    This would be true if capital investment was a commodity whose limiting factor was the price, that the only thing that kept you from having more is that you do cannot pay for it. Beer and chocolate would be good examples.

    Then there are things that cost is very low in the list of reasons to buy or not to buy it. Things like root canals. You do not get root canals because you can afford them, but because you are in too much pain not endure it. The problem with capital investment is that, being somehting that is “good for you”, it consumes goods that you’d rather use for personal gratification or conspicuous consumption.

    So, I suspect that capital invstment is something that is pain-driven. You do it because the alternative is worse.

  47. The United States is *empty*. It could fit over 2 billion people and have the same population density as Germany, which itself still has room for plenty of farms and forests. But I think the limit that would be tolerable to Americans–who won’t want to live in rowhouses or ride public transportation–would be well below 1 billion.

  48. So, I suspect that capital invstment is something that is pain-driven. You do it because the alternative is worse.

    Tell it to Warren Buffett. Maybe you can be his shrink and tell him to live a little, and to lay off the S&M. In the meantime you can charge him an arm and a leg and tell him to write it off.

  49. Julian Simon said a couple of decades ago that if you give all humans a square foot of land to stand in (or was it 1 1/2 square feet), you could fit the entire world’s population in Atlanta. That is without even buliding skyscrapers etc.

    The only maximum capacity for human population is how clever we are in growing enough food for us all. Even drinking water is not an issue, “they” have reduced the cost of desalinization plant by a factor of ten in the past decade, and I suspect that at that rate it can go yet cheaper.

    Just thought I’d throw that in for whoever wroongly thinks we are even close to being overpopulated on this planet.

    Oh yeah, supposedly in about 50 years or so the human population either levels off, or starts shrinking! It seems wealth brings less desire to have kids for some reason. Perhaps “you” don’t need many kids to support you in your old age if you can do so yourself, so why have the little brats?

  50. Maintaining the integrity of your political system is a perfectly legitimate reason for restricting immigration.

    No, it is not. It may be a perfectly legitimate reason for restricting voting citizenship, but restricting immigration is illegitimate at its core as a violation of the rights of individuals to live where they wish and to associate with whom they wish.

    If you want to have loyalty tests as part of your naturalization process, that is a completely separate issue from protectionist migration policies. But if you’re argument is that the Unfree State Project of Sharia and/or Communism is going to pick the US as its target and there’s nothing the US can do to stop it, you are really down to third-order whining.

  51. I’m aware that certain parts of processing chickens would be very difficult to automate. I’m also sure that at some point before Eli Whitney came along someone said that we would always need slaves because that’s the only efficient way to separate the seeds from the bolls.

  52. According to page 1 of the business section in this morning’s Washington Post, the unemployment rate for immigrants is lower than the unemployment rate for people born in the US. Immigrants are mostly concentrated in the fastest-growing sectors.

    Is this good news, since it means that they drain less from the social service system than people born here? Or is it bad news, since “they’re taking our jobs!”?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.