|An argument against immigrationdebate.com's essay|
The author who contributed the main argument found on immigrantdebate.com has argued passionately in favor of an open-door policy with regards to U.S. immigration. We recall from Munger that there are three sides to a policy triangle: equity, efficiency, and institutional reform. The author argues passionately, if not effectively, from two sides of the Munger triangle: the efficiency side and the equity side.
On the efficiency side, the author asserts that the more immigrants who come to America, the better for our country. We gain more laborers who pay more taxes and contribute more toward our common good. That, according to the author, is why America is a land of immigrants and is also the strongest nation in the world.
On the equity side, the author is convinced that to have an open-door policy is the only morally defensible course of action. This country was built by immigrants, and it is therefore only fair that we continue to give people from low-wage countries the opportunity to move to a high-wage country and make better lives for themselves.
The author, however, does not discuss institutional reform policies at any great length. If he were to explore that avenue, he would not agree with the idea that is one of the central themes of Borjas’s book: “A wise and stable political consensus requires that the American people be fully aware of the price they will have to pay if the United states chooses to adopt an immigration policy that minimizes or ignores economic considerations.” [Borjas, p. 18.]
The main idea the author keeps coming back to in his essay is that our resources are infinite. “In reality,” he writes, “we can build as many houses as we want, assuming we have the needed labor, and immigrants often provide this labor.” Is this an accurate statement? In economic terms, the supply of land is perfectly inelastic, in that there is literally a finite amount of it within the borders of the United States. In our capitalist system, landowners must find it economically viable to build housing for immigrants, foregoing the next best opportunity cost to do it. When there is no such incentive, then housing will not be built. This is not a question of an ideal world of infinite resources, but an economic reality that when there is no incentive to provide resources, the housing will not be built.
Borjas would make an efficiency argument in the following manner. The majority of unskilled laborers who move to the U.S. have a severe negative impact on the state where they live. When they arrive in the U.S., immigrants must assimilate to the new country and look for housing and work. They must place their children in school, they must obtain medical help and housing. They do this through government assistance. Government assistance is derived from tax dollars, which the author claims are also conveniently available in infinite numbers. “In reality,” says the author, “tax dollars depend on the workers who pay their taxes, including these new immigrants.” This statement is an uninformed one, belied by the fact that immigrant families usually require government assistance well into the third generation, according to Borjas. [p. 13.] Government aid is not taxed. Therefore immigrants on the dole are not contributing tax dollars to the system; they are depleting the system. Further, as any taxpayer will tell you, the domestic national product of the United States is not comprised of infinite numbers of dollar bills, unless we can persuade the U.S. Mint to open its doors and print millions of new dollar bills with no fiscal backing. To be fair, though, if we did this, thousands of immigrants could pitch in and help, and be paid in the worthless dollars.
Borjas cites another reason that the author’s infinite housing labor argument will not stand up to scrutiny: the skill levels and economic performance of U.S. immigrants has declined, relative to the trend in the native population. [Borjas, p. 8.] Not all immigrants are unskilled, so Borjas posits that a way to keep the doors open to immigration might be to require immigrants to possess skill sets in demand in the U.S. This is similar to immigration policies already in place in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Skilled immigrants assimilate faster, contribute to our system, and have a relatively low impact on social programs. [Borjas p. 19] These are the immigrants that the author refers to in his scenario of the great contribution that may be made by the new American immigrants. Unfortunately, the majority of immigrants that this country do receive are unskilled, do not know English well, and do not achieve economic parity in their lifetime. They are a drain on our very finite resources.
anonymous on 2005-05-05 08:35:24 - recs (113)
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