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Immigrants

March 25, 2012

Recently I read a post at another site which mentioned that ‘Open Borders’ (not enforcing immigration laws or allowing unrestricted immigration), costs the working class jobs and lowers its wages.

I really wish we could lay this one to rest. Here’s why.

When the size of the labor pool is restricted by law – and that’s exactly what’s being proposed by restricting immigration – then the working class’s higher wages are due to scarcity. Those wages are paid by everyone. And that ‘everyone’ includes the working class itself. I don’t know how something so obvious gets overlooked so often.

Have people forgotten what it was like in the 1970s to pay too much for a mediocre car made in Detroit by highly paid union labor? The working class – at least some of it – was getting its higher wages and the rest of us were paying the price.

Second, this claim is often stated as "They’re taking our jobs." What I want to know is: Who is this ‘we’ which ‘owns’ these jobs?

Those jobs aren’t ‘ours’ by virtue of being citizens. If the jobs belong to anyone, they belong to the people seeking to hire others. They certainly don’t belong to the people seeking to be hired.

Third, when the state of Georgia managed to chase off its immigrant labor, the farmers complained that they couldn’t find the help they needed.

And, oddly enough, something similar happened in Alabama. Gee, who’d have thought?

Where were all the job-seekers among ‘us’ who weren’t applying for those jobs?

Fourth, I have an abiding respect for the Melting Pot concept. I suspect it demonstrates hybrid vigor: both in the physical, evolutionary sense and in the Matt Ridely, ideas-have-sex sense.

Having more people at the party isn’t a problem. More people at the party is more human capital that generates more social dividend.

The only drawback I see to allowing open borders is that you can not follow that policy and have a lot of ‘social benefits’ (i.e., a strong welfare state). “Open Borders or Open Bar”: that’s the choice that needs to be made.


In the early 1980s, I lived in Tucson. Tucson has seen phenomenal population growth in the last century (PDF). It went from ~7500 in 1900 to just under 500,000 in 2000. While I lived there, I met an old-timer who told me that in 1948 there was only one traffic signal in Tucson.

The reason I mention Tucson is that many people were concerned that all the new immigrants – those people moving to Arizona from the Midwest and other parts of the US – were taxing the water supply. Older folks who’d been raised in Tucson could remember when its rivers ran year ’round. When you see those rivers today, all you see is dry riverbeds because of the fall of the water table.

So the question in Tuscon in the early 80s was: Who’ll be the Last Man in Tucson? Which of the previous immigrants is going to tell the next immigrants, “Sorry, we’re full up.”?

I think we can apply that same question to the United States as a whole. We’re pretty much a nation of immigrants and their children. Which of us is going to tell the next immigrants that there’s no more room?

More to the point, why would we past immigrants deny the future immigrants? Don’t we want them to have the same opportunities our parents had?


Aside from the They’re-Taking-Our-Jobs complaint, there are some other common objections to open immigration that come up frequently.

It’s illegal. I really don’t get this one. OK, I’ll stipulate that it’s illegal under current law.

But many things have been illegal in the past: sale and possession of alcohol, for one example. Many things will likely be illegal in the future: refusing to buy a health insurance policy comes to mind.

There’s a difference between things that are illegal and things that are immoral. Murder is usually both (except in self-defense). Driving over the speed limit, like swimming the Rio Grande, is illegal. But it’s not a violation of moral law in my view.

If people want to improve their lives by moving, more power to ‘em. I’ve done it a couple of times myself.

They bring new and dangerous diseases. There’s certainly some truth to this though it’s hardly news. It’s been a problem in the past, too.

While this objection should certainly influence disease policies, I don’t see why it needs to influence immigration policy in general. I’m not advocating that we allow any individual to immigrate, regardless of how disease-ridden s/he may be.

Social services are overwhelmed. This objection follows hard on the heels of the previous one. One of the common complaints I’ve heard about this is that the illegals are swamping the emergency rooms because they don’t have doctors or health care policies.

This is a big complaint in southern Arizona and I don’t doubt that it’s true to some extent. I do wonder, though, how much this affects the cost of emergency care. Or is it mostly a complaint about hearing a group of Spanish speakers in places where people don’t expect them?

They’re violent offenders and are filling the jails. There’s a fair degree of contention on this topic. I’m not sure how to sort out the claims and counter-claims about this. Some say there are correlations between immigrants and crime. Others say there is no correlation.

To me, it sounds as though no one knows whether this is a true claim. There are even some who claim immigrants have lower crime rates.

¿Quién sabe?

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