Robert Samuelson is disappointed with the level of debate among the presidential candidates thus far. "Let's imagine what a candidate inoculated with truth serum might say," he writes. Thus, we get one of those sad columns where the pundit in question tells us what he would say were Americans enlightened enough to nominate him, and then explains that he'll never be nominated because he is just so goshdarn candid. Here's a nice bit of straight talk:
"Finally, let's discuss poverty. Everyone's against it, but hardly anyone admits that most of the increase in the past 15 years reflects immigration—new immigrants or children of recent immigrants. Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won't reduce poverty."
The last line is nonsensical as stated, but I assume Samuelson meant to say "won't reduce the rate of poverty in the United States." So, to paraphrase our truth-teller: If you let more poor people into the United States, there will be more poor people in the United States. Well, yeah. But why should we care about the aggregate poverty rate as opposed to the well-being of the individuals within the aggregate? The rate tells us nothing about the average well-being of those Americans who were here before the migration takes place, and nothing about how much better off those immigrants are for having migrated. By Samuelson's logic, we should deny poor immigrants entry even if they make natives appreciably better off, because they'll affect a statistic he is oddly preoccupied with.
I tend to assume that people who tout this talking point are just confused, but it's worth considering the implicit worldview of someone who repeatedly states this kind of thing. The goal here has nothing to do with poverty alleviation; we already know that the quickest way to reduce poverty is to open labor markets. Rather, the goal is to reduce the number of people beneath a particular income level within a particular spatial area. To what end, I have no idea. But if that's what we're aiming at, why not just deport the poor?