Pritchett Presses 2 for Swahili

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Jason DeParle profiles Harvard economist Lant Pritchett, the world's strongest advocate for open labor markets:

To those standard solutions, trade and aid, Pritchett would add a third: a big upset-the-applecart idea, equally offensive to the left and the right. He wants a giant guest-worker program that would put millions of the world's poorest people to work in its richest economies…

The basics are simple: The rich world has lots of well-paying jobs and an aging population that cannot fill them. The poor world has desperate workers. But while goods and capital can easily cross borders, modern labor cannot. This strikes Pritchett as bad economics and worse social justice. He likens the limits on labor mobility to "apartheid on a global scale." Think Desmond Tutu with equations.

Pritchett attacks the primacy of nationality itself, treating it as an atavistic prejudice. Modern moral theory rejects discrimination based on other conditions of birth. The name John Rawls appears on only a single page of "Let Their People Come," but Pritchett is taking Rawlsian philosophy to new lengths. If a just social order, as Rawls theorized, is one we would embrace behind a "veil of ignorance" — without knowing what traits we possess — a world that uses the trait of nationality to exclude the neediest workers from the richest job markets is deeply unjust.

DeParle, here and elsewhere in the annals of the New York Times Magazine, grasps the logic of of tradeoff, eschews condescension, and refuses to romanticize destitution. He understands that ugly options can also be the best options available; that if you have to break up a family to fill a stomach, breaking up is good to do. Pritchett is an economist with big, radical ideas who understands the expediency of small steps, the gradual expansion of moral community. He doesn't relish the idea of forcing guest workers home after a stint in the U.S., but he argues the "temporary" in "temporary guest worker program" elevates the idea to the realm of the politically possible. Not that it's proving possible just yet:

People who think migration is too high — 12 percent of Americans are foreign-born — say that Pritchett is prescribing cultural suicide…Mark Krikorian fears that immigrants are already forming parallel societies whose numbers do not even bother to learn English; adding to the 36 million already here, he said, would speed the cultural secession. "You'd have more 'Press 2 for Swahili,' no question about that," he says. "It'd be a complete catastrophe."

Pritchett, unable to get apoplectic about telephonic language options, responds with a shrug. He shouldn't, because fears of cultural fission are motivating much of his opposition. But if Pritchett doesn't have a direct response, he at least makes clear the terms of the tradeoff: He simply calculates the costs of restricting opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation in the name of slowing cultural change–a level of global poverty cemented in place by market restrictions. Pritchett isn't going to change Krikorian's mind, but he might force him to acknowledge the full price of cultural stasis.

I discussed Pritchett and labor markets earlier this month.

UPDATE: Michael Clemens, who first introduced me to Pritchett's work, has more. 

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  1. I agree with whatever MikeP will post in here.

  2. I’ll just note that “cultural suicide” and “real suicide” don’t seem to have a lot in common.

  3. Likewise “Press 2 for Swahili” and “complete catastrophe.”

  4. Besides, it’ll be at least “Press 6 for Swahili.”

    The real catastrophe comes when there are more than 9 languages to choose from.

  5. “Mark Krikorian fears that immigrants are already forming parallel societies whose numbers do not even bother to learn English”

    $100 says the number of languages that Mark Krikorian speaks fluently is less than two.

  6. How has this been up for ten minutes without Lonewacko showing up? The man is losing his touch.

  7. Oh, I should probably translate my comment into something that Lonewacko can understand:

    Iagree WithWhatEver MikeP willPostin Here.

  8. [Scary voiceover narrator]

    Say it once as a joke.

    Say it twice as a dare.

    Say it three times, and you just might summon…

    “LoneWacko. Lonewacko. Lonewacko.”

    [Scream, sound of glass breaking]

  9. You’d have more ‘Press 2 for Swahili,’ no question about that

    I don’t mind listening to Swahili as much as the “We didn’t do it that way in California” whine.

    He doesn’t relish the idea of forcing guest workers home after a stint in the U.S., but he argues the “temporary” in “temporary guest worker program” elevates the idea to the realm of the politically possible.

    As I’ve posted before, I think most of the Mexicans who want to come north won’t have to be forced home. Unfortunately that doesn’t hold for the rest of the world, and a temporary worker program would draw a lot of folks whose migration choice is “anywhere but where I’m now living.” Not that most of them don’t have good reason to escape the world’s numerous hellholes.

    How to keep a program “temporary” is a problem that needs solving.

  10. I can think of two places that are full of desparate people who would love to come to the US and would make a great start to Pritchitt’s idea; the Palistinian Territories and the Sunni areas of Iraq. My guess is about 80% or more of the populations in those places would pack up and come to the U.S. no questions asked if given the opportunity. Doing this would pretty much solve the Palistinian problem in the middle east. Who needs a homeland when you can go to America? It would also go a long ways to solving the sectarian violence in Iraq, since if the Sunni’s weren’t there, there would only be one side left in the fight. Since the people would come voluntarily and not be ethnicly cleansed, how could anyone possibly object to such a plan? If there are objections, perhaps the world is more complex than Pritchett is willing to admit.

  11. I’d be interested in hearing Lant Pritchett’s views on giving welfare/healthcare/social services to all of these people. Security concerns aside, I’m not opposed to Africans coming here to find work, but I am very worried about waves of people from undeveloped societies coming here, not being able to adapt to the culture, and then finding out that welfare,unemployment, etc. will pay them enormous amounts of money (compared to what they are used to) for doing nothing at all.

    Before anybody avoids the arugment by trying to make it into a racial thing: If there were a country paying $400,000 a year to welfare recipients, you’d probably see a lot of white Americans lining up.

  12. My guess is about 80% or more of the populations in those places would pack up and come to the U.S. no questions asked if given the opportunity.

    Doesn’t that number seem ludicrously high to you? It certainly does to me.

  13. Pritchett is thinking in the aggregate. Is is very possible that if you allowed huge numbers of immigrants, the overall good would be increased because the the raise in the standard of living of the immigrants but still greatly lower the quality of life for Americans already living here (just by as much as you increase the quality of life of immigrants). People like Pritchett are so elitist, they expect the average American to take a lower quality of life in the name of some abstract greater economic good. What does he care, it is not like these people are going to be living in his neighborhood in Cambridge or anything.

  14. “Doesn’t that number seem ludicrously high to you? It certainly does to me.”

    For a chance to come to the US with a legit Visa? I was being flippant but I would bet it would be very high, especially in the PA.

  15. John,
    While many Palestinians would love to move somewhere where they could become citizens, they wouldn’t travel to be guest workers/second-class citizens. Those willing to do that left for other Arab countries long ago. (Insert rant on the hypocrisy of other Arab countries using the plight of the Palestinians for political gain, while exacerbating it by not letting them into their countries).

    And atop that there would be many who would remain and fight for what is at this point their grandparents’ homes (insert rant about how they’re cutting off their noses to spite their faces). Allowing immigration of this type would reduce population pressure in Palestine, but since poverty tracks well with literalist devoutness tracks well with poor education of women tracks well with having lots of children, the population pressure would return swiftly.

  16. [It] is very possible that if you allowed huge numbers of immigrants, the overall good would be increased because the the raise in the standard of living of the immigrants but still greatly lower the quality of life for Americans already living here (just by as much as you increase the quality of life of immigrants).

    I don’t think this is at all true. If I go to the store and buy a TiVo, my quality of life is improved. Yours suffers by my action not a whit, whether I’m a homegrown white guy from Iowa or a newly-arrived immigrant from Outer Madeupistan. The same holds for when I rent (or buy) a house, find a job, or raise my kids.

    In the long run, if numbers drastically shift, maybe school cafeterias will serve more hummus and fewer corn dogs, but that’s hardly an apocolyptic vision of “lowered quality of life.” Things change. It’s not a big deal, and it’s not worth restricting freedom over.

  17. I’d be interested in hearing Lant Pritchett’s views on giving welfare/healthcare/social services to all of these people. Security concerns aside, I’m not opposed to Africans coming here to find work, but I am very worried about waves of people from undeveloped societies coming here, not being able to adapt to the culture, and then finding out that welfare,unemployment, etc. will pay them enormous amounts of money (compared to what they are used to) for doing nothing at all.

    To be clear, under current laws, even legal immigrants who enter the U.S. after 1996 are ineligible for many or most “welfare programs,” including food stamps and Supplemental Security Income. They also aren’t eligible for Medicaid or TANF (the paradigmatic “welfare” benefit) until at least 5 years after entering the U.S. – this condition excludes all temporary workers. As I understand it, permanent residents may be eligible for Social Security payments, but no other group of immigrants, including temporary workers, are eligible.

    Incidentally, illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for any of these benefits.

    This isn’t to say that legal and illegal immigrants don’t use “social services,” such as schools, homeless shelters, roads, police services, emergency rooms, etc., but we’re not actually “paying” them huge amounts of money.

  18. John,

    You might try reading the article to get a sense of the “abstract economic good” you claim Pritchett has in mind:

    Indra Magar, home from Qatar, had the air of a visiting prince. He was 25, with crisp jeans and a shirt stamped “United Precast Concrete.” The way his father beamed, it could have said “Princeton.” The father, Singha Madur, had spent his life as a human mule, hauling goods by foot over the mountains from a road nine days away. His son made $400 a month, nearly 10 times the local wage, and was saving to start a shop in Kathmandu. Something looked different about the younger Madur besides his clothes, and I finally realized what: he was the first villager I had seen with a paunch. I asked the father the best part of his son’s life. “He’s full!” he said. “Full all the time.”

    Still too abstract for you?

  19. I can’t believe I misspelled “apocalyptic.” I am ashamed. Very, very ashamed.

  20. Well if he supports the abolition of tenure and open immigration of economists……..

    Why limit open labor markets to the lower class?

  21. Pritchett is thinking in the aggregate. Is is very possible that if you allowed huge numbers of immigrants, the overall good would be increased because the the raise in the standard of living of the immigrants but still greatly lower the quality of life for Americans already living here (just by as much as you increase the quality of life of immigrants). People like Pritchett are so elitist, they expect the average American to take a lower quality of life in the name of some abstract greater economic good. What does he care, it is not like these people are going to be living in his neighborhood in Cambridge or anything.

    Yes, distributional fairness. Instead of limiting labor inflows, perhaps we ought to be direct about this. Let’s simply redistribute wealth from those loathsome elitists to the average man. But instead of “elitist” and “average,” let’s use the words “bourgeois” and “proletariat.” After all, abstract greater economic good is for petty bourgeois capitalist roaders.

  22. If there were a country paying $400,000 a year to welfare recipients, you’d probably see a lot of white Americans lining up.

    There are already countries that are much more generous with welfare than America–and Americans are not lining up to live there, are they?

    greatly lower the quality of life for Americans already living here

    I’m still waiting for an explanation of how poor people coming to America reduces the standard of living for everyone else–that does not rely on the ridiculous and incorrect assumption that everyone comes here to sit on their asses all day and do nothing to contribute to the economy.

  23. “Incidentally, illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for any of these benefits.”

    Their American citizen children are eligible for benefits and the EBT card goes to the parent.

  24. “I’m still waiting for an explanation of how poor people coming to America reduces the standard of living for everyone else–that does not rely on the ridiculous and incorrect assumption that everyone comes here to sit on their asses all day and do nothing to contribute to the economy.”

    Ever here of supply and demand ?

  25. Kerry Howley,

    Since when do anecdotes count as arguments? Do you deny that allowing huge numbers of guest workers wouldn’t have huge consequences? Further, how in the world could you manage a society with a citizen class and a slave class of guest workers with no real rights as citizens? I would suggest you look at place like Kuwait before you buy into such a system. There is no way that America would ever be heartless enough to have a Kuwaiti like system. There is no such thing as a guest worker; they would all eventually be immigrants. I fail to see how letting huge numbers of low skilled or unskilled immigrants will necessarily improve the quality of life for the people already here. Perhaps that is too abstract for you, you do write for Reason after all, but it is a legitimate concern and grossly elitist for people like Pritchett to blithely assume that Americans should sacrifice their quality of life in the name of economics.

  26. “I’m still waiting for an explanation of how poor people coming to America reduces the standard of living for everyone else–that does not rely on the ridiculous and incorrect assumption that everyone comes here to sit on their asses all day and do nothing to contribute to the economy.”

    Did supply and demand cease to exist in labor markets? If you had open borders with say Mexico, people in Mexico would immigrate here until the wages in the U.S equalized with those in Mexico. Wages and standard of living falls until it gets roughly equal with the countries providing the immigrants. Now, it is true that wages would stay somewhat higher because of the cost and effort associated with getting here, but they certainly would fall especially for the lower skilled workers and indeed maybe everyone depending on whom you let in. That is how markets work. In a sense, we all have artificially high wages right now because we do not have to compete with the world for our jobs. Immigration laws artificially lower the supply of labor and thus artificially raise wages. I don’t consider that a bad thing. If you do, fine, but don’t pretend that that is not what is going on.

  27. I agree with the moral reasons in favor of immigration and i personally welcome competition, but I tend to think all those who claim there are not enough US workers, only jobs that “Americans” won’t do,etc are stretching it just a tad. At least in my experience ( and I have lived in a few diverse places) I know plenty of very bright ( and mostly college-educated and libertarian-leaning) and capable people who honestly feel there are no jobs, have experienced long stretches of unemployment, are willing to do anything ( including cleaning toilets or whatever), and long ago stopped looking and/or turned to the underground economy to get by. And yes, this in the USA.

  28. Since when do anecdotes count as arguments?

    It certainly counts in this case, since you were the one complaining about how “abstract” it all was. Ms. Howley gave you a concrete example (literally!).

    Further, how in the world could you manage a society with a citizen class and a slave class of guest workers with no real rights as citizens?

    Are you referring to Ms. Howley’s article, “Managing a Society: A Vitally Important Thing to Do So We Don’t All Speak Some Foreign Language,” or Mr. Pritchett’s textbook, “Slavery: The Very Bestest Economic System, Ever”? Seriously, who’s advocating that, exactly?

    […]blithely assume that Americans should sacrifice their quality of life in the name of economics.

    You know, you’re really going to have to back up that “sacrifice their quality of life” thing someday if you want to keep using it.

  29. And another thing Howley. If I linked to some story about some Mexican maffia member who came here on a guest worker program, would that do anything to help my argument? I don’t think it would. Your story about the guy in Quater is just as irrelevent.

  30. Further, how in the world could you manage a society with a citizen class and a slave class of guest workers with no real rights as citizens?

    Here are your “rights” as citizens:

    1. You may vote.
    2. You may hold elective office.
    3. You may serve on a jury.
    4. You won’t be deported.

    None of #1 through #3 are even close to as important as #4. Millions upon millions of people would be happy to take #4 and never have a shot at #1 though #3.

  31. I wonder if this debate is relevant. It does not matter if people from low-level economies should move to nations with higher level economies. The fact is that they are moving. The US has ten million or so Mexicans, the UK is full of Polish plumbers, and Spain has lots of undocumented workers from Morocco, Cuba, and the rest of Latin America.
    In today’s world this movement is impossible to stop as witnessed by the US government’s inability to pass any immigration bill.
    The issue is to grasp what problems will be caused by these movements and how to deal with them. Maybe these workers will be a positive addition to the workforce, or maybe they’ll be a cultural disruption, but I don’t think that anything is going to stop a very large redistribution of people in the next fifty years.

  32. Still too abstract for you?

    Compared to the people in my own family, yeah it is a pretty abstract story. It is as abstract to me as the conditions third world sweatshops, an abstract concern that Reasonwriters seem less concerned by. That is the thing about abstract concerns, I guess: you can kind of take them or leave them in a way that it is hard to do with concerns that touch on your own family. The whole “zillions wiped out by a flood in China” thingee.

    John, I thought your post was truly eloquent.

  33. “It certainly counts in this case, since you were the one complaining about how “abstract” it all was. Ms. Howley gave you a concrete example (literally!).”

    Bullshit. If anything she makes my point. I never denied that immigration is a great thing for the immigrant. If it wasn’t, the person wouldn’t be immigrant. My point is that that comes at a cost to the people in the country he is immigrating to. Her saying “what about the poor man from Quater” in no disproves my point.

    “You know, you’re really going to have to back up that “sacrifice their quality of life” thing someday if you want to keep using it.”

    Read my point above about markets. How are immigration laws anything but artificial barriers to competition? Since that is what they are, you can’t deny that getting rid of them hurts the people who are benifiting from them right now.

  34. Wages and standard of living falls until it gets roughly equal with the countries providing the immigrants.

    Consider as evidence the fact that the standard of living in Connecticut is equal to that in Mississippi. And the standard of living in Mississippi is equal to that in Puerto Rico.

    They’re not? Oh.

  35. John,

    How someone can be “elitist” for proposing a program that would help some of the world’s poorest people is beyond me. People who had the good sense to be born with a first world passport are world’s elite; arguing for the coercive exclusion of the world’s poor from the world’s wealthy labor markets — from voluntary, mutually beneficial cooperation — is the picture of elitism. And fundamentally anti-libertarian, if that matter to you.

    Your argument depends on the idea that people WHO HAVE MOVED AT GREAT PERSONAL COST FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF WORKING are mere liabilities rather than productive assets, and that protectionism is generally more beneficial than free trade. Check your economics textbook.

    Allowing huge numbers of guest workers would indeed have huge consequences: it would lower the prices of goods for consumers generally, improve the productivity of the economy, and massively enhance the well-being of millions of human beings.

    Oh… but that last consideration doesn’t count if they have the wrong passport, right?

  36. “The issue is to grasp what problems will be caused by these movements and how to deal with them. Maybe these workers will be a positive addition to the workforce, or maybe they’ll be a cultural disruption, but I don’t think that anything is going to stop a very large redistribution of people in the next fifty years.”

    Those are good points. The answer is to fix the economies in places like Mexico so there is less reason to immigrate, but that is a tall order. Further, the mass immigration from Mexico probably hampers reform efforts there. The Mexican elite have very little incentive to fix their broken system since anyone who doesn’t like it is free to come to the U.S.

    I don’t if we can stop the tide of immigrants or not, but we need to at least admit that it is a problem to be managed rather than the Howley “isn’t this a wonderful story from Quater” approach.

  37. OK, could the folks trying to equate free trade with forced redistribution of wealth please line up over hyeah? We’ll have your signs ready shortly.

  38. How are immigration laws anything but artificial barriers to competition? Since that is what they are, you can’t deny that getting rid of them hurts the people who are benifiting from them right now.

    As with all protectionist laws, immigration restrictions help one class of people in the restricting population, but at the expense of every other class of people in the restricting population.

    For example, the immigration of low skilled labor may harm the wages of low skilled natives, but they improve the standard of living of the other 90% of the native population as well as the native population as a whole.

  39. It is, of course, possible to actually read Pritchett’s book, which is free.

  40. How are immigration laws anything but artificial barriers to competition? Since that is what they are, you can’t deny that getting rid of them hurts the people who are benifiting from them right now.

    Well, okay then. God forbid we prevent people from unfairly using the law to keep reality at bay. No, better we should artifically support local underproducers at the cost of keeping people hungry because they were born on the wrong side of an imaginary line.

  41. “Consider as evidence the fact that the standard of living in Connecticut is equal to that in Mississippi. And the standard of living in Mississippi is equal to that in Puerto Rico.

    They’re not? Oh.”

    Adjust for “race” and see what you get.
    Mississippi might be come out on top

  42. The answer is to fix the economies in places like Mexico so there is less reason to immigrate, but that is a tall order.

    I’m assuming you’re also descended from immigrants who came here seeking economic opportunity and personal freedom. (Pardon me if I’m wrong.) Something must have been defective in their home countries, if they felt like taking the risk of starting a new life across the sea. Your ancestors decided, for whatever reason, that fixing their home countries wasn’t worth trying. Maybe they didn’t see any point in trying to get backwards rulers to shape up, when they could just as easily improve their own lot in another country.

    I don’t get this “Fix the rest of the world so we don’t have immigrants” notion. It’s not like our ancestors were all that keen on waiting for their homelands to improve.

  43. Those are good points. The answer is to fix the economies in places like Mexico so there is less reason to immigrate, but that is a tall order. Further, the mass immigration from Mexico probably hampers reform efforts there. The Mexican elite have very little incentive to fix their broken system since anyone who doesn’t like it is free to come to the U.S.

    Another answer is to tax the people who make money from the new immigrants so that the benefit they bring is more evenly distributed throughout the people of the US as a whole, instead of being concentrated solely in the immigrant and investor classes.

  44. “Consider as evidence the fact that the standard of living in Connecticut is equal to that in Mississippi. And the standard of living in Mississippi is equal to that in Puerto Rico.

    They’re not? Oh.”

    Connecticut is part of a national labor market and thus does have lower wages because of competition from places like Mississipi. No one would say that wages will be equal only that they would be lower.

    In principle a world market of truly open borders and markets would be ideal. The world is reality not principle. Further, I would never ague that the overall wellbeing of the world would be increased if the U.S. had truly open borders. My argument is that the well being of the American living right now is going to be lowered by open borders. It may be that your view is that Americans are the privileged elite and should have to live in a more crowded, more polluted country with lower wages in the name of allowing the poor of the world to come to America. That is at least a consistent position. I frankly am not sure that it is not the morally correct position. What I object to is the lying. The lying and pretending that open borders are somehow a good thing for the people who are already here.

  45. “As with all protectionist laws, immigration restrictions help one class of people in the restricting population, but at the expense of every other class of people in the restricting population.

    For example, the immigration of low skilled labor may harm the wages of low skilled natives, but they improve the standard of living of the other 90% of the native population as well as the native population as a whole.”

    Are you supporting restricting the immigration of certain classes of labor?

  46. Another answer is to tax the people who make money from the new immigrants

    Further to previous:

    It should also be borne in mind that a lot of the previous generations of immigrants came when the tax base of the US was business taxes, and not income / sales taxes.

    If we want to set the clocks back then maybe that needs set back, too.

  47. John-

    Here’s a hypothetical for you: Would it be in Connecticut’s best interest to secede, then negotiate trade agreements with the other 49 states so that they have a free flow of products and information but not labor?

    I know this will never (and should never) happen, but it’s a hypothetical, to get at the economic issues.

  48. No one would say that wages will be equal only that they would be lower.

    That’s right, no one is arguing that! Well, except for you, at about 1:13 PM:

    Wages and standard of living falls until it gets roughly equal with the countries providing the immigrants.

    I think you’re having some difficulty with your argument.

  49. No one would say that wages will be equal only that they would be lower.

    Um. You said it…

    If you had open borders with say Mexico, people in Mexico would immigrate here until the wages in the U.S equalized with those in Mexico.

    It may be that your view is that Americans are the privileged elite and should have to live in a more crowded, more polluted country with lower wages in the name of allowing the poor of the world to come to America.

    It is my view that open immigration will raise wages in the United States while standard supply and demand forces on land and living rents will keep the US from becoming an overcrowded and more polluted country.

  50. “For example, the immigration of low skilled labor may harm the wages of low skilled natives, but they improve the standard of living of the other 90% of the native population as well as the native population as a whole.”

    Are you supporting restricting the immigration of certain classes of labor?”

    Given a choice, why not restrict the borders and take the highest skilled most productive pool of workers available? One of the great myths about America is that previous waves of immigrants were unskilled. They were not. They were predominantly skilled tradesman and farmers who filled a real need for people to populate the West. The country would be better off if it took immigrants selectively, only taking educated highly skilled and productive workers. Why are we importing workers to stay in the tomato framing business when we could be importing engineers and scientists from India? If the tomato farmers in the Imperial Valley go broke from lack of labor, all the better, we will just import our fruits and vegetables from Mexico where the labor already is.

  51. Are you supporting restricting the immigration of certain classes of labor?

    Not at all. That’s simply the case currently being discussed the most. Clearly higher skilled immigrants are even less likely to harm native standard of living simply because of their higher producer surplus.

  52. John-

    You make a good point about how the US economy might be better off if we specialize in things other than farming.

    We need some mechanism for deciding whether the best use of resources in the US is farming. Maybe we could call this mechanism a “market”, and the “market” forces would determine when people stopped pouring resources into farming (and hence stopped hiring farm workers). These “market” forces could also determine whom the farming managers hired.

    Or we could just let planners make the decision.

  53. Why are we importing workers to stay in the tomato framing business when we could be importing engineers and scientists from India?

    The short answer is that American farm workers don’t vote.

  54. “Here’s a hypothetical for you: Would it be in Connecticut’s best interest to secede, then negotiate trade agreements with the other 49 states so that they have a free flow of products and information but not labor?”

    No because the standard of living in even the poorest U.S. state is not so much lower than Connecticut’s as to do much to lower Connecticuts or in anyway counter balance the huge benifits it gets from being in a common market with the other 50 states. What if things were different? What if the people’s republic of New York were next door, where the average wage was fifty cents an hour, there was no welfare or social programs to speak of and millions of New Yorkers dreamed only of escaping to Connecticut? Then would Connecticut be better off in a common market with New York? I think not

    If you could equalize social programs and the rule of law and economic policies between all the countries of the world and all of the countries of the world would open their borders, then probably open borders would be a great thing for everyone. But that is not reality.

  55. It is my view that open immigration will raise wages in the United States while standard supply and demand forces on land and living rents will keep the US from becoming an overcrowded and more polluted country.

    I would also like a pony.

  56. Or we could just let planners make the decision.

    I didn’t know John liked joe that much!

  57. How much did your ancestors hurt our country, John?

  58. “We need some mechanism for deciding whether the best use of resources in the US is farming. Maybe we could call this mechanism a “market”, and the “market” forces would determine when people stopped pouring resources into farming (and hence stopped hiring farm workers). These “market” forces could also determine whom the farming managers hired.”

    But of course we don’t have a perfect market system. We subsidize farmers to grow unprofitable crops driving the need for migrant workers. We also have social programs and birth right citizenship. All of those things cause people to migrate for reasons other than because they can be most productive here.

  59. Why are we importing workers to stay in the tomato framing business when we could be importing engineers and scientists from India?

    The longer answer is that the greatest force for restricting immigration is the protectionist tendencies of legislators and their constituents.

    The only reason the present immigration reform is politically conceivable now is that it limits itself to “jobs Americans won’t do” on the low end and “jobs to keep America competitive” on the high end. If the current reform movement were about generally liberalized immigration, it would be attacked on all sides by all classes as “taking Americans’ jobs”.

  60. So Thoreau because one wave of immigrants in a completely different time were a net positive for the country, all future waves of immigrants are also necessarily a positive for the country? Yeah, that is some fool proof logic there. I really expect a better standard of argument from you in particular than the old “who were your parents?” canard. You have to know better than that. If you are making the moral argument that we should let everyone in because it is the right thing to do, fine then make it. But spare me the sophistry.

  61. How much did your ancestors hurt our country, John?

    You mean back when there was sufficient democratic will such that they could come in legally?

    Probably not much, as evidenced by the fact that there was sufficient democratic will to allow them to come in legally.

  62. BTW, John, I don’t know your ancestry. If your ancestors were brought here forcibly, or if they came on the land bridge from Asia (i.e. they were the first ones here) I apologize for the assumption that your ancestors were willing immigrants.

  63. “The longer answer is that the greatest force for restricting immigration is the protectionist tendencies of legislators and their constituents.”

    You are absolutely right. It is protectionism. It is protectionism that artificially raises the wages of Americans. I would never deny that. The issue is why the hell should Americans give up their artificially high wages for immigrants? I don’t see the rest of the world doing anything for Americans.

  64. Another correction:

    The first ones here were of course willing immigrants as well, but the usual immigration issues didn’t apply because, well, they were the first ones here.

  65. John-

    You are correct that the same thing might not always be true. But when the arguments made then and now are remarkably similar, the burden should be on the people making arguments that were wrong the last time around.

  66. “You are correct that the same thing might not always be true. But when the arguments made then and now are remarkably similar, the burden should be on the people making arguments that were wrong the last time around.”

    I think I have made some of those arguments. We have a country of 300 million people with a better than replacement birthrate. This is not Europe or Japan. We are not facing a demographic implosion. Indeed, the waves of immigrants in the last 30 years have probably saved us from that. The question is when is too much of a good thing? Further, is it worth the social price of Americans giving up their artificially protected wages in the name of immigration when we already have 300 million people and a better than replacement birthrate?

    I am not necessarily anti-immigration. I kind of go back and fourth on the issue. What does drive me crazy and make me a bit of a gadfly on this issue is the way people like Howley and Pritchett pretend that there are no costs to immigration and that it is an unqualified good for everyone. That is just not true.

  67. It is protectionism that artificially raises the wages of Americans.

    It artificially raises the wages of some Americans, while lowering the wages of all other Americans.

    Yes, the stopping of some potential immigrant will help some native to some extent. But the free immigrant will be better off, his employer will be better off, and the producer surplus will be wealth that would not have existed if not for the immigration. The sum of the effects over the whole economy and all wages of the free immigration is positive.

    The issue is why the hell should Americans give up their artificially high wages for immigrants?

    Do you think the same thing about protectionist trade restrictions?

  68. the burden should be on the people making arguments that were wrong the last time around.

    Then, as now, the “burden” remains with the people who want something different than what the law allows.

  69. I am not necessarily anti-immigration. I kind of go back and fourth on the issue. What does drive me crazy and make me a bit of a gadfly on this issue is the way people like Howley and Pritchett pretend that there are no costs to immigration and that it is an unqualified good for everyone. That is just not true.

    me too. I am a legal immigrant living and working in a country with lots of legal immigrants. It is not an unqualified good.

  70. No because the standard of living in even the poorest U.S. state is not so much lower than Connecticut’s as to do much to lower Connecticuts or in anyway counter balance the huge benifits it gets from being in a common market with the other 50 states.

    Connecticut’s standard of living is double that of Mississippi. Mississippi’s is double that of Puerto Rico.

    Just when and by what mechanism is this equalization of standard of living supposed to kick in?

  71. MikeP-

    He said “roughly equal”, not “equal.” The question is how big the discrepancy has to be before the alleged problems occur.

    The biggest factor preventing a flood of people moving from one state to another is that leaving everyone and everything behind to go a long way away and try your luck is not easy. Even when the move is within the same country. Most people don’t have it in them to do it. Even a lot of those who do only do it temporarily (as witnessed by the people who leave a family behind, go off to earn money, then go back to their home country).

    We’re descended (for the most part) from people who willingly crossed the globe to seek a better life. We can’t understand why everybody wouldn’t do it if it were allowed because our culture wasn’t shaped by the people who chose not to move.

  72. “Just when and by what mechanism is this equalization of standard of living supposed to kick in?”

    We have one federal government and basically equal laws in this country. Yeah, a state like Mississipi or New York can really screw it up and fall behind other more business friendly states, but the laws and the standard of living is pretty equal. Mississipi is not Mexico. I said above, if you could get every country in the world to have the same social services and economic laws and the same open borders, open borders would be pretty damn great. But that is not reality. As long as you have countries like Mexico that continually fuck up their economies and fail to provide their people with decent economic opportunities, open borders will do nothing but lower the standard of living of those people fortunate enough not to live in those countries.

  73. open borders will do nothing but lower the standard of living of those people fortunate enough not to live in those countries.

    You keep saying this as though it were true.

  74. Why are we importing workers to stay in the tomato framing business when we could be importing engineers and scientists from India?

    Why not “import” both? And why is it that you think the farm workers we “import” never improve themselves and *become* engineers or scientists? Just because they’re Mexican are they incapable of being anything better than a farm worker?

    The issue is why the hell should Americans give up their artificially high wages for immigrants?

    No, the issue is that your argument is mistaken. Cheap labor reduces costs. Our standard of living remains the same or increases. The benefit to “us” remains the same whether the cheap labor is here or India or wherever, but having them here produces all kinds of additional benefits for everyone, from better jobs and more opportunities for “them” to better restaurants and more young people contributing to social security for “us”.

    This is not Europe or Japan.

    If we, like Japan, had zero immigration we would have the exact same result: a brittle, fragile economy always on the verge of collapse. And we would soon fall below the replacement rate: it is inevitable. The reason we don’t is entirely due to current immigration and the cumulative effects of past immigration.

  75. “We’re descended (for the most part) from people who willingly crossed the globe to seek a better life. We can’t understand why everybody wouldn’t do it if it were allowed because our culture wasn’t shaped by the people who chose not to move.”

    There is certainly some truth to that. I don’t think we are doing the world many favors by taking their most energetic and adaptable citizens. For example, there are places in Mexico where there are no young people or anyone working. It is just old people and mothers with children living on remittences from the U.S. Perhaps Mexico would be a better country with more opportunities if some of their young stayed home. Further, maybe the Mexican elite might be forced to change their system if they couldn’t just send anyone who didn’t like it to the U.S.

  76. “No, the issue is that your argument is mistaken. Cheap labor reduces costs.”

    It is not that simple. The availability of an endless supply of cheap labor decreases the comparative advantage of investment in capital and reduces productivity. Why invest in inventing a machine when you can hire workers to do the labor manually? Why are we somehow automatically better off importing labor to do agriculture than we would be if we did it mechaniclly?

  77. Why are we somehow automatically better off importing labor to do agriculture than we would be if we did it mechaniclly?

    “We” may or may not be better off. But those who know best are the employer and employee. Taking the choice out of their hands is not doing the economy any favors.

    If it is better to mechanize than to employ the labor, then those enterprises that mechanize will outcompete those that employ labor, and the particular industry will become mechanized. Believing the federal government should make this decision for this industry — nay, every industry — is extremely anti-market.

  78. “If it is better to mechanize than to employ the labor, then those enterprises that mechanize will outcompete those that employ labor, and the particular industry will become mechanized. Believing the federal government should make this decision for this industry — nay, every industry — is extremely anti-market.”

    I don’t don’t have to pay for the social costs of schooling and assimilation that my thousands of migrant workers inflict on the local town. I get to externalize that and save money on capital. Further, we are all slaves to our productivity. Never in the history of man has the importation of large numbers of cheap labor produced better results than investment in capital.

  79. Taking the choice out of their hands is not doing the economy any favors.

    Consider a first economic transaction whereby two people each make $.75.

    Then consider a second economic transacation where one person makes $1.99 and the other person makes $.01.

    Which transaction (when aggregated on a large scale) is better for “the economy”? Which is better for America as a land of freedom and equality of opportunity?

  80. If I may let the economic transaction be the archtypical example of trading an apple for an orange…

    In the first, person A has an orange, but thinks an apple would be 75? better, and person B has an apple, but thinks an orange would be 75? better. They trade.

    In the second, person A has an orange, but thinks an apple would be $1.99 better, and person B has an apple, but thinks an orange would be 1? better. They, too, trade.

    The second one is better for the economy because of the larger consumer surplus. The second is also better for America as a land of freedom and equality of opportunity: No government came from outside the picture and said a trade that benefits both parties can’t happen because it benefits one person more than the other.

  81. For example, there are places in Mexico where there are no young people or anyone working.

    The same could be said for large swaths of the midwest. It’s not up to you or me to improve the quality of life in the ghost towns of North Dakota any more than those of Mexico. But I’m not going to pretend that my quality of life would be higher if fewer of either cohort moved to my city, with the caveat that I want my Mexicans to be legal and paying taxes like the rest of us. As for costs, I think the single largest drain on the coffers is single motherhood, a class that is much less prevalent among immigrants (especially migrant workers) than the native population, so I’m skeptical of arguments that say immigrants “cost” us more than they’re worth.

  82. “There are already countries that are much more generous with welfare than America–and Americans are not lining up to live there, are they?”

    You misunderstand. I’m not comparing what you can get on welfare, I’m comparing what you can get from American welfare to what you can make from actually working in some countries. To many of those $1 a day Africans, life at the bottom in this country looks like a huge step up to them. Food stamps are awesome when you’re used to starving. A crappy apartment with electricity and running water is a palace compared to your mud hut. Living in a high crime area would probably still beat many places in Africa. At least here we have police who actually try to stop people from murdering you (insert the words “Amadou Diallo” to snark that everything I said was wrong).
    I’m thinking the equivalent to this for an American would have to be if Sweden decided that everyone on the dole should get a 5,000 square foot house, a brand new Volvo, meals at the finest eating establishments, and a few hundred grand a year in spending money. I know plenty of people who would leave a Wile E. Coyote-like smoke trail as they ran over the Atlantic waves to get that deal.

  83. The second one is better for the economy because of the larger consumer surplus. The second is also better for America as a land of freedom and equality of opportunity: No government came from outside the picture and said a trade that benefits both parties can’t happen because it benefits one person more than the other.

    This is hugely naive. The real answer is that a class or caste system will develop over time and economic mobility will cease. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and the country, as a whole, will begin to suck.

    I am not saying that immigration will neccessarily do this to the US, but it is a real possibility, especially now that the tax base, environment, economic concentration of wealth and population are different than they used to be in the US.

  84. Oh. So when you said, “aggregated on a large scale,” you meant that the party benefiting by only one part to the other’s 200 parts would be stuck with that same benefit ratio in every transaction in his entire economic life?

    Why do you presume that? It sounds hugely naive.

    Incidentally, which party in the immigration debate is supposed to be the one getting $1.99 value and which one is getting the 1? value? The farmer who has to pay $8 an hour just to get his strawberries picked? Or the immigrant for whom $8 an hour is 8 times his wage back home?

  85. Years. Advances in AI and robotics will make pretty much all manual labor completely irrelevant. Soon after, all non-machine enhanced thinking jobs will be irrelevant. It’s fun to have this debate in the meantime, though.

  86. The problems with enlarging the scale of immigrant worker programs are several-fold:

    1) their kids have birthright citizenship, which in our current “children are god” cultural phase makes it impossible to enforce deportation policy when their parents break the law
    2) they often bring their cultural defects (bribery and public corruption, domestic violence) with them, and it’s hard to stamp them out because they’re here for jobs, not to assimilate and absorb *our* culture
    3) especially in the case of Muslim immigrants, they make demands for special treatment which natives don’t (and shouldn’t) get
    4) the more of them that are here the more moonbat outfits like La Raza and MECHA can organize disruptive protests
    5) there more of them that are here, the more public elections are corrupted through the official policy of “sanctuary cities” like San Francisco, who refuse to ask for proper citizenship documents when registering voters

  87. they often bring their cultural defects (bribery and public corruption, domestic violence) with them, and it’s hard to stamp them out because they’re here for jobs, not to assimilate and absorb *our* culture

    Wait… Congress is composed of Mexicans?

  88. In the 1920s, there were no less than three Finnish-language newspapers in Fitchburg, Massachusettts. This is a city whose population never rose above 60,000, and in which Finns were never more than a minority of the population. A Finnish immigrant could go his whole life without ever learning a word of English. There were Finnish-speaking workplaces, stores, neighborhoods, and media sufficient for someone to live his whole life in that milieu.

    You know why the telephone asks you to press a button if you want a different language? Because people who don’t speak English well are actually interacting with, and dependent on, English-speaking institutions, to a much greater degree than immigrants in the past.

    People claiming that linguistic balkanization is increasing in America are people who don’t know history.

  89. Wait… Congress is composed of Mexicans?

    Cute, but misses the point. My point was about doing what you know, rather than doing what the natives do, because you have no intention of changing your ways and becoming a native. That’s true even if you don’t like the way things are in your place of origin. It’s the same psychological effect in play when New Jerseyans (Jerseyites?) move to Florida in order to escape New Jersey’s high taxes and onerous regulations, then proceed to vote (consciously or unconsciously) for more of the same economy-killing policies, just like they did back home.

  90. Well, if you want more substantive criticism:

    1) their kids have birthright citizenship, which in our current “children are god” cultural phase makes it impossible to enforce deportation policy when their parents break the law

    If the law is unjust (as, I submit, our current immigration policies are), then I don’t really care if it’s hard to punish someone for it. Besides, the kid is a citizen just like you and I, right? What justifies taking away the child’s citizenship rights? The “sins” of the father?

    2) they often bring their cultural defects (bribery and public corruption, domestic violence) with them, and it’s hard to stamp them out because they’re here for jobs, not to assimilate and absorb *our* culture

    Who, exactly, are Mexicans bribing once they’re in the US? Not other Mexicans, I’d imagine. So the elected/appointed officials who take the bribes are blameless? It takes two to tango, and it’s not like we don’t have plenty of home-grown corruption. As was the thrust of my earlier comment – corruption is not a Mexican import.

    Also keep in mind that you do not (nor do I, nor do “we”) own the culture. If it changes around us, it changes around us, and there’s not a lot you or I can or should do to change that fact.

    3) especially in the case of Muslim immigrants, they make demands for special treatment which natives don’t (and shouldn’t) get

    This is silly. If there’s an immigrant demanding special treatment, then just don’t give it to them. What power do you think these people have over the US, exactly?

    Of course, you don’t claim that the immigrants actually receive this “special treatment,” (what, exactly, are these demands you speak of, anyway?) and you avoid mentioning that plenty of “natives” demand special treatment every day.

    4) the more of them that are here the more moonbat outfits like La Raza and MECHA can organize disruptive protests

    And? The more natives we have, the more the skinheads and the ELF and Fred Phelps can organize disruptive protests. Perhaps we should start looking for ways to deport random natives, to cut back on those groups’ prospective recruiting pools?

    5) there more of them that are here, the more public elections are corrupted through the official policy of “sanctuary cities” like San Francisco, who refuse to ask for proper citizenship documents when registering voters

    So you reckon that all immigrants should be held responsible for the actions of comparatively few people? Seriously, if someone’s committing vote fraud, go after them. The vast majority of immigrants, however, don’t commit vote fraud, or any other crime. Why punish them for the actions of others?

    Your arguments seem to boil down to “immigrants are human, and are therefore insufficiently superior to natives for us to allow in.”

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