Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Immigration Economics

There is a heated discussion elsewhere on No Left Turns concerning the economic effects of immigration. In 2002, I published an academic article on this subject in the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. The article relied on numerous economic and legal studies, including several books and peer-reviewed articles by Harvard economist George J. Borjas, as well as a thorough study published by the National Research Council in 1997.

I concluded, based on the economic studies available at that time, that the United States would benefit from more liberalized immigration laws. Among my proposals was a new guest-worker program between the United States and Mexico. I believed both then and now that a temporary guest-worker program would relieve many of the market pressures that lead to illegal immigration. That proposal turned out to be very similar to one made by President Bush in January 2004. Economics aside, I also believe that a guest-worker program could improve national security. With an effective guest-worker program, illegal immigration would decrease. Large amounts of manpower and other resources that are currently spent combating illegal immigration could then be more specifically targeted toward security threats.

Whether one agrees with my conclusions or not, I encourage readers to review some of the sources cited within the article. I particularly recommend that those interested in this area read the study published by the National Research Council, which is summarized at this link. It is a very thorough analysis that calculates the estimated taxes paid and costs imposed by immigrants, including an accounting of the estimated fiscal impact of immigrants’ descendants.     

Discussions - 11 Comments

Mr. Obhof (any relation to Spawn?) -- there are many non-economic reasons to control the border region, and I’ll eventually articulate those. In the meantime I am content to argue the merits of mass immigration in narrow economic terms. Since I have not read your article, I’ll try to do that in the next day or two.

Dain: I have no relation to any of the anonymous commenters (at least not since I gained the ability to post), but I saw the prior argument and thought I would add this. It discusses some of the sources/authors that you were writing about. I pointed out Borjas specifically because his work was referenced so much in the other discussion (which is unsurprising, given that he is one of the leading scholars in his field). Although I relied on his statistical findings, our policy proposals differ, and the later in his work you get the greater the differences become. I mentioned the NRC study because it is discussed at length in my article, and addresses some of the long-term tax-benefit tradeoffs. I don’t really want to get into an argument like the one I saw on the other string -- I just thought this might be interesting to some readers.

Is there an example from recent history of one large scale "guest worker" program being that and not a back door for permanent immigration. Germany has a large permament unassimiliated Muslim Turk presence because they came during the 1960s as "guest workers" but as any one could of probably guessed once they had a taste of the good life in Western Europe they did not leave and now there are second and third generation born in Germany from these original "guest workers". After the devestating Hurrican hit Central America in the late 1990s (?) the US government invited refugees to come to the US on a "temporary" basis until their countries have recovered. Guess what, its been over 6 years and from all appearances these refugees will be in the US on a permament basis. Given this history in the US and Europe there is zero crediblilty that a "guest worker" progam will be that.

Bush’s guest worker program would be fine in theory as long as there was absolutely no hint that it could lead to legal immigration. That still needs to be done the old-fashioned way. However, I think that paying to actually monitor and enforce the guest worker program would be more costly than illegal immigration control, and lack of funding and will would render the program irrelevent from an immigration-control point of view.

At the risk of being labled ethnocentric, I find it rather odd that everyone is thinking of this soley in economic terms.

Conservatives often mock Europe for allowing people with a radically different notion of the good to immigrate in massive numbers. France will soon be islamic, etc. Holland will soon have crazy islamic people killing their citizens.

Yet no one sees the parrells with a massive influx of Hispanics? I think it is rather worrisome that Mexico and Central America has consistently had corrupt and unworkable government. Pancho Villa was less than 100 years ago.

I would like two questions answered: 1. What reason do we have not to believe that Mexican government is bad because of the mores and habits of Mexicans, and that a massive influex of them in a short period of time will pull American government in the same direction?
2. What reason do we have to believe that Mexicans will not come to view Americans as Moroccoans and the like view the French and Dutch: as weak, lazy, contemptable and not deserving of life?

Mexican labor has two disadvantages. First, it is nearly impossible to communicate with them. Try telling the guy who frames your house to move a wall, or the guy who mops the floor that he missed a spot, you will only get blank stare. Second, cheap labor discourages the invention and investment into researching labor saving devices. Ancient history and the antebellum south proves this, as does modern India. I worked with a guy from India this summer. He told me that there are not many backhoes, etc. in India. Most construction work is done manually because it is much cheaper because they have so many people.

Why should we want to discourage the invention of machines that may promote efficiences in multiple areas, but are not economical to make unless they can be applied in different areas? Example: Robot powered lawnmower not invented because Mexicans mow lawns. Same robot technology could be used in 10 different industries.

Steve -- you make good points which are a part of the "non-economic" reasons to control the border than I eluded to in the first response. Other such reasons are serious income inequality (which plays into the hands of Liberal politicians), crime, drugs, and the serious distortion created by another large minority group in our political system. Part of the reason we haven’t controlled the border is because there is such a large number of Hispanic voters who might resent it -- look at the way Bush pandered to them in the 2004 election. Hispanics are one of the reasons that California is all but lost to the GOP (other immigrants add to this problem).

Nope, looking at legal and illegal immigration only from an economic (i.e. Libertarian) point of view is a terrible mistake. Of course, those who want unrestricted immigration often argue that the problem is uncontrollable anyway, and so its inevitability argues for just adjusting to it. Of course, that’s exactly what was argued about Soviet expansionism. But just as communism wasn’t the inevitable fate of the world, neither is Azlan inevitable in the American southwest. The only thing we are lacking is the political will to do what is necessary to stem the tide of illegals.


I know this thread has been dorment for a while, but on the off chance you might check it I figured I would add my thoughts. In the 1940’s Congress passed the Bracero Accord which set up what was called the "Bracero Program." This was a temporary guest worker program that almost 5 million people participated in until its final dimise in the 1980’s. (sorry I don’t have specfic dates.) During this program the average stay of immigrant workers was approxiamtely 9 months.

I’m back!!! P. Griffen, I have no idea what you’re babbling about, but your spelling is FANTASTIC! I love "dorment," "dimise???" and "approxiamtely." Good stuff, amigo!

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