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Julian Simon Would Tell Us: America Needs More Immigrants

The economist taught that people are the "ultimate resource."

The late economist Julian Simon taught us that people are the "ultimate resource." In the short-term, population growth causes problems. It increases traffic, crowds our schools, and stretches family and government budgets. But over time, population growth pushes us to innovate and find solutions that leave us better off. Population growth drives economic expansion. It makes us richer. And it improves our health and environment.

Simon died in 1998, but he left behind decades of controversial and path-breaking work—and an unusually good track record.

In 1980, Simon famously offered a wager to back up his work showing that natural resources generally become less scarce and less expensive. Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich accepted the challenge, chose five metals, and bet that between 1980 and 1990, their prices would rise because they would become scarcer. Simon bet that the prices of the metals would fall. In 1990, Simon won the bet. Prices of all five metals fell.

I miss Julian Simon more than most. He was my father. I often think about what he would say about the economic issues we face today. On the subject of immigration, I know what he would say: The economic evidence is clear that America needs more immigrants.

In his book The Economic Consequences of Immigration, praised by Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, Simon showed that immigrants improve our economy. They work more, save more and start more businesses per person than native-born Americans. They raise the overall incomes of native-born Americans. And, particularly through the taxes they pay, they have an overall positive impact on the public coffers. Their positive impact on federal government finances is greater than their negative impact on state and local government finances.

Given Simon's great track record predicting economic and societal outcomes, it is not surprising that so many of his findings still hold true.

In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences reported that immigration "is integral to the nation's economic growth." Immigrants have "helped the United States avoid the problems facing stagnant economies created by unfavorable demographics," particularly an aging workforce. Immigrants (who are now better educated than ever) have "boosted the nation's capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change." The National Academy of Sciences confirmed that immigrants make us richer and contribute more to the public coffers than they take out.

What kinds of immigrants does the U.S. need? All kinds, Simon would tell us. We need the innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs who will create the next Google, Comcast and Tesla (all founded or co-founded by immigrants). And we need the immigrants who pick fruit and do other back-breaking work that almost no other Americans will do.

Simon also would point out that immigrants make America safer. Immigrants commit fewer crimes than other Americans. The American Immigration Council reported in 2015 that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent "antisocial" behaviors, and less likely than the native-born to be behind bars.

Finally, Simon would tell us that the understanding of immigrants' crucial role in America's economic success dates back to July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence attacked King George for obstructing immigration to America. "He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…"

The bottom line, Simon would tell us, is that people who sacrifice so much, and leave everything and everyone they know to come hundreds or thousands of miles to America, are exactly the kind of people our country needs and should want. They provide America with one of its great advantages over the rest of the world. Immigrants are a key reason that the American economy grows faster, innovates more, and has more vitality and better demographics (a critically important higher birth rate and a less aging workforce). America, he would say, needs more immigrants.

David M. Simon is a lawyer in Chicago. The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of the law firm with which he is affiliated.

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  • damikesc||

    Nobody is arguing to stop immigration.

  • SomeGuy||

    This! We just want beneficial immigrants and not anyone and their uncle to squat here being a leech.

  • OldMexican Blankety Blank||

    Re: damikesc,

    Nobody is arguing to stop immigration


    Liar.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Indeed you are!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I am arguing moving immigration to a trickle. Like a few thousand immigrants a year. I would say stop immigration but Americans marry foreigners and they should be able to bring those immigrants to the USA.

    The big fantasy about opening the flood gates is why does the US economy have to have more immigrants to expand. It does not. More people cause serious and expensive traffic issues, typically more farmland is used for more housing, etc.

    Do Americans want this? I don't. I think ~330M people in America is plenty. Allow in a few thousand immigrants each year and make American educate great again, so Americans can compete in a World economy.

    BTW: Americans might start having more kids if taxes would go down and it didn't take two incomes to raise a couple of kids. One parent would be able to stay home and raise kids while the other parent worked. If you cannot replace the death rate with birth rate, then socialists decide they have the answer and that is ship in socialists to prop up shrinking populations.

  • Tony||

    On the one hand immigrants are a net positive for society, not to mention human individuals with basic rights. On the other hand they might put a swarthy baby in your little princess.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    Tony is definitely not racist, you guys.

  • John Titor||

    You've got that strawman on the ropes there Tony.

  • John||

    As pointed out above, no one is arguing to stop immigration. Further, all of Simon's work was an analysis of past immigration. Saying "immigrants do..." is mischaracterizing the data. The data says "immigrants have..." Whether that will be true in the future is the entire question. And it is a question that Simon never answers. Simon just assumes all immigrants are interchangeable and the circumstances of the past will continue forever. That would be nice if it were true and there is nothing saying it can't be true. There is however nothing saying it will be either.

  • Tony||

    Obviously we should make immigration policy on what immigrants might do but haven't done before, and we'll just randomly select, oh let's say John, to speculate on the matter.

  • John||

    So no immigrants have ever engaged in terrorism or had problems assimilating? So is the party telling you that the last 30 years have been sent down the memory hole? Are those Mormons I see in France burning cars and murdering people for being Jewish or drawing the wrong cartoons?

  • John||

    Do you know what a logical fallacy is? Can you please at least try to learn what words mean before you use them?

    Simon's data relates to past immigrants. it is only valid if the new wave of immigrants is comparable. The events of the last 30 years involving Muslim terrorism and the events unfolding in Europe involving Muslim immigrants is strong evidence that Muslim immigrants are not like the immigrants from the past that Simon's data described.

    That is not a fallacy. That is a valid argument. Just because you don't like it doesn't make it a fallacy. Do you just not understand what reason and argumentation look like? Can I make a suggestion? From now on before you respond to one of my posts, why don't you ask me to clarify it and explain it again. That will give me time to put it in simpler terms for you and maybe educate you on how arguments and reasoning work. That way you would learn something and perhaps become a better contributor to the conversation. Deal?

  • Tony||

    How about you learn when the Republican party is using your stupidity and fear as a means to pass tax cuts for Sheldon Adelson.

  • John||

    Tony, you are an idiot and dangerous to yourself and others. A flaming gay man arguing that mass Muslim immigration could never be a problem would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.

  • Tony||

    John I am so flattered--flattered!--that you and your fellow psychopath Republicans have decided that after decades of treating gay people like shit on your shoe, you figured out how to exploit us for a whole new round of hysterical bigotry.

    Could you just give me a heads up for when the party might decide that we're back on the rotation?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Tony, if you want to see a vicious bigot you need only look in the mirror.

  • american socialist||

    What tax cuts are being passed?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Not nearly enough.....

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    Yes, it is a fallacy, because you generalized from a tiny fraction of immigrants to the whole group.

    I've never heard of a single human that doesn't understand NAXALT and yet there's any army of midwits acting like they've uncovered some ancient truth.

  • John||

    Yes, it is a fallacy, because you generalized from a tiny fraction of immigrants to the whole group.

    No I am not. The problems Europe is facing with its immigrants is not a tiny fraction of them. It is nearly all of them. You can't talk about Muslim immigration without at least admitting and accounting for the problems going on in Europe.

    Moreover, you miss the point. So what if only one in a thousand Muslims becomes a terrorist? We can't tell which one is going to become one. So the price of Muslim immigration is going to be some amount of terrorism that otherwise would not have occurred. Past immigrants were not a danger to fly planes into buildings or conduct mass casualty attacks.

    Again, you seem to have a problem understanding what words mean. You don't seem to understand what the term "generalization" means. Generalization means a conclusion about a group collectively. It doesn't have to mean every person in that group is a certain way. It can mean that this or that characteristic or belief is "generally" associated with something. So when someone says "having a Muslim population often or generally means having some measure of Islamic terrorism", the proper response isn't "you can't generalize about all Muslims". That is not a sensible response.

    Again, trying asking for help before you make these arguments.

  • gclancy51||

    1 in a 1,000 is disingenuous.

    If you're going to rag on condescendingly about logical fallacies perhaps you should research subject-verb agreement? Most immigrants know it and it's a basic predicate for someone desperate to look smart.

    Treating Europe as a country is tiring me. It's a continent with histories and cultures you don't even know the half of. "B-B-But look at Europe is a silly argument, and needs to be dropped.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    @CWD No, John made a temporal argument. Had nothing to do with whole/part confusion.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    How about only taking the knees that are of obvious economic benefit? As opposed to absolutely everyone that can pass a background check. There is an upward limit to how many we can take in a specific period of time before it works against us anyway.

  • Tony||

    A white Christian bombed the Murrah building. What should we do with white Christians? You know, just in case.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Hand you over to appease them? You progs like to be appeasers, right? And it would make things better for everyone in your life I'm sure.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He was talking immigrants not native born Americans. You cannot deport native born Americans. You can deport immigrants and/or keep them from coming here.

    NiCe StRaWmAn.

  • OldMexican Blankety Blank||

    Re: John,

    no one is arguing to stop immigration.


    Liar.

  • JFree||

    I agree that we need immigration and that it is beneficial. My problem is that we are using immigration to avoid paying attention to fixing long-term problems. The modern reverse of how countries used to (and maybe still do) use emigration. Get rid of your tired your poor your troublemakers - in order to prevent revolution and keep the oppressive status quo going.

    Migration is not just about the natural freedom of the people who are moving. It is also about keeping oppressiveness sustainable. The former is worthy of ideas of liberty. The latter is not.

  • John||

    Is Turkey not a real country?

    http://www.euractiv.com/sectio.....s-a-month/

    Even Muslims consider Muslim immigration to be a threat.

  • JFree||

    Cuba, Haiti, and Mexico are three current examples of countries that don't at ALL mind losing people cuz the people who are staying are running things and they don't want anything to change. I'm sure if I go more than 100 miles from the US border, there's a ton more countries.

    Even 19th century Europe. The Brits welcomed Irish emigration to the US cuz it avoided revolution. Germans welcomed emigration post-1848 cuz it got rid of [classical] 'liberals' and reduced the likelihood of an 1848 repeat. Eastern Europe and Italy welcomed emigration in late 19th century cuz it kept ossified monarchs in power.

  • John Titor||

    he modern reverse of how countries used to (and maybe still do) use emigration. Get rid of your tired your poor your troublemakers - in order to prevent revolution and keep the oppressive status quo going.

    Well, that's how the Mexican government is using illegal immigration at least.

  • Free Society||

    Migration is not just about the natural freedom of the people who are moving.

    A right to emigrate might be a natural right. But a right to immigrate cannot possibly be a natural right outside of unowned territory.

  • John||

    We don't talk about Julian's bastard son, only his legitimate ones.

  • Longtobefree||

    Sounds of silence?

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences reported that immigration

    LOL

    entrepreneurs who will create the next Google, Comcast and Tesla (all founded or co-founded by immigrants)

    uhhh ....

    The American Immigration Council reported in 2015 that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent "antisocial" behaviors, and less likely than the native-born to be behind bars.

    "The 2010 Census data reveals that incarceration rates among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population are significantly lower than the incarceration rate among native-born young men without a high-school diploma."

    Every Fucking Time

  • Free Society||

    Simon also would point out that immigrants make America safer. Immigrants commit fewer crimes than other Americans. The American Immigration Council reported in 2015 that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent "antisocial" behaviors, and less likely than the native-born to be behind bars.

    While at the same time non-citizens account for over 25% of the federal prison population? Interesting.

  • John||

    It is called lying with statistics. When they talk about immigrants for the purposes of crime, they mean legal immigrants. Yes, people who have been vetted and are here legally and stand to lose their status and be sent home, do tend to commit fewer crimes. If they were criminals, they would likely have a criminal record at home and would not have been let in in the first place. So yes, they have as a group a lower crime rate than natives.

    That sounds nice but so what? That just means that our current immigration system does a pretty good job of not letting in criminals. It doesn't mean that we should be letting more people in. yet, they take it to mean that. It is just a variation on the locked door fallacy. We have locked the door and as a result, no one has robbed us. Simon and company are arguing that the fact that we haven't' been robbed means there is no reason to lock the door.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    When they talk about immigrants for the purposes of crime, they mean legal immigrants.

    Sometimes. Here Simon is doing the "control for education for no good reason and then don't tell anyone" thing.

  • John||

    So Simon assumes that every immigrant is a high school drop out? That is pretty racist isn't it?

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    He appears to be assuming every Latin illegal is a dropout. See my quote from the report above.

  • Tony||

    Speaking lying with statistics, half of those people are detained only for immigration-related infractions in facilities created to house them. But you'd know that if your Google worked. Sad.

  • Free Society||

    62% of the 88,776 strong non-citizen prison population are incarcerated in some form of federal prison. That's 56,817. Immigration related crimes are federal crimes mind you, so it stands to reason that pretty much all the immigration related incarcerations will be in federal prisons. 14,853 non-citizens are in federal prison for those aforementioned immigration related offenses ranging from people smuggling and unlawful re-entry to production and sale of false identification documents. Half of 56,817 is not 14,853 it's actually about 28,409. So I guess we're talking maybe 1/4th of non-citizens in prison are there for immigration related crimes.

    But you'd know that if your Google worked.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I wonder if we're making any distinctions between immigration and... I'm trying to find the right words here, 'people who showed up'.

    The latter could included several categories, the first category that comes to mind are 'refugees'. I don't see all 'people who show up' as being fundamentally the same.

    This article seems to be focused primarily on immigration the way most of American history defined it: People who left the old, oppressive world to find freedom an opportunity in the new world, work hard and make their fortune. I don't think there are many who would dispute that these are the people you want.

    The latter, harder to define category find their way here for different reasons, and ultimately may not want to be here. I agree that even in the latter category, I suspect they may have lower incarceration rates and be less likely to commit crimes. But in countries that have restrictive employment polices, they may not end up being a net add to the economy, but could be a net drain.

    At that point, I think a country needs to come to grips with their goals. If your goal is primarily humanitarian, then it may not matter if they're a net drain to your economy.

  • John||

    Simon, like a lot of libertarian thinkers, thinks of people as being interchangeable. The underlying assumption of his argument is that all immigration and immigrants are the same. Otherwise, how past immigrants have behaved is not relevant to how future immigrants will behave. That is a pretty stupid assumption. Okay, we had a lot of immigrants before now who have been productive and assimilated. There is nothing that says other groups of immigrants will be the same. Not all people are the same. Not all cultures are the same. Why would all immigrants be the same?

    And as you say, the people who choose to come here are a different group than those who are forced to come here by circumstances. The latter group may not want to be here. They may not have any use for our culture, values or any desire to assimilate. They didn't choose to come here. They would have preferred to stay where they were but couldn't due to circumstances. To assume such a group will assimilate just like the people in the past who came here by choice is pretty naive on Simon's part.

  • american socialist||

    That is cool but we didn't get rid of immigration so i am not sure why folks act like this is the case

  • John||

    Because they don't want to have an honest discussion about the actual position of their opponents. But they make up for this by accusing everyone else of engaging in the straw man fallacy.

  • ||

    What's even worse is that people like Tony use straw man arguments to defend muslim immigrants who completely oppose gay rights altogether, and are currently assimilating less than other immigrant groups.

    He will defend them as they support sharia law over US laws.

    It's just sad.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Tony fantasizes about being gang raped then thrown off of a building.

  • Tony||

    So you, freedom-lover, are arguing in support of a religious test for immigration? Just say what you want the policy to be.

    People who know what the fuck they're talking about, along with any observant 5 year-old, will tell you that the policy of antagonizing the world's Muslims is the most efficient way to create more anti-West Muslim terrorists. That makes you on the side of the terrorists, not me. Stupidity is no excuse.

  • ||

    It's not a religious test it's an assimilation test. We as US citizens reserve the right to decide who can come in to our country, receive welfare benefits and use the infrastructure we support and pay for. No one has a problem with muslim immigrants who come to the US, assimilate and respect the fact that Sharia law doesn't supersede federal and state law. What I have a problem with (and so should you, by the way) is opening the door to muslims or any other group/religion/race that creates enclaves where people are able to practice their own laws that don't comply with ours.

  • buybuydandavis||

    All kinds, Simon would tell us.

    Did he want criminals?

  • american socialist||

    "entrepreneurs who will create the next Google, Comcast and Tesla (all founded or co-founded by immigrants)"

    This is not exactly a selling point sans google. Seeing how Tesla might as well call itself a nationalized company and comcast has a monopoly granted by gov to deliver subpar results

  • Rational Exuberance||

    The bottom line, Simon would tell us, is that people who sacrifice so much, and leave everything and everyone they know to come hundreds or thousands of miles to America, are exactly the kind of people our country needs and should want

    That used to be true when the US wasn't a welfare state. These days, if you come to the US, you basically get several hundred thousands of dollars in lifetime benefits, in particular if you are low skill, low IQ, and low education. That attracts the wrong kind of immigrants.

    So, yes, immigrants are good, as long as they are smart, skilled, entrepreneurial, and self-sufficient. Mexican day laborers and Syrian refugees... not so much.

  • gclancy51||

    This John guy is hilarious. A libertarian racist! So much fun...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Being anti-opening immigration flood gates is not being racist.

    SJW gotta SJW.

  • Prisoner of Maine||

    For fuck's sake, Reason, it's illegal immigration that folks are revolting about—NOT the overall importance of immigrants to the United States. Your constant drumbeat of pro immigration bears questioning when you never bother to address illegal immigration within this context nor its associated tab as it concerns the welfare stat— to which you are vehemently opposed. It seems to me Reason doesn't want to appear "racist" by overtly ducking this subject. A lot of intellectual inconsistency on this subject, and you really need to square it with your other positions to be taken seriously.

  • Longtobefree||

    Given that this is about legal immigrants; yes.
    If about illegal immigrants; no. (fact;100% of illegal immigrants have committed a crime, not 100% of native born have committed a crime)
    If about deliberately confusing the two, ignore.

  • rexlpm||

    Milton Friedman would say that you cannot simultaneously have an open border and a welfare state. Solve the welfare problem and I will support your position.

    As a condition of entry I believe you must show prove of health care insurance. Charities are free to pay the bill, but the taxpayers should not be part of the equation.

    Of course, deregulating medicine would make health care affordable, making life easier for all-- with the exception of the health care monopolies, of course. Not sure why society believes maintaining government created monopoly profit outweighs the benefits of affordable health care.

    PS.. Affordable health care does not mean government mandated low prices.

  • JayWye||

    we do NOT need the kind of immigrants who are so willing to break our laws just to come here.

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