Thursday, March 9, 2017

Adam Davidson on Immigration

Illustration by Andrew Rae, source New York Times

Adam Davidson has a very nice New York Times Magazine article, "Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant", in favor of "radically open borders."

Here's how a top professional journalist and writer puts together the central argument, so much more cleanly than I can do it:
So why don’t we open up?
The chief logical mistake we make is something called the Lump of Labor Fallacy: the erroneous notion that there is only so much work to be done and that no one can get a job without taking one from someone else. It’s an understandable assumption. After all, with other types of market transactions, when the supply goes up, the price falls. If there were suddenly a whole lot more oranges, we’d expect the price of oranges to fall or the number of oranges that went uneaten to surge.

But immigrants aren’t oranges. It might seem intuitive that when there is an increase in the supply of workers, the ones who were here already will make less money or lose their jobs. Immigrants don’t just increase the supply of labor, though; they simultaneously increase demand for it, using the wages they earn to rent apartments, eat food, get haircuts, buy cellphones. That means there are more jobs building apartments, selling food, giving haircuts and dispatching the trucks that move those phones. Immigrants increase the size of the overall population, which means they increase the size of the economy. Logically, if immigrants were “stealing” jobs, so would every young person leaving school and entering the job market; countries should become poorer as they get larger. In reality, of course, the opposite happens.

Most anti-immigration arguments I hear are variations on the Lump of Labor Fallacy. That immigrant has a job. If he didn’t have that job, somebody else, somebody born here, would have it. This argument is wrong, or at least wildly oversimplified. But it feels so correct, so logical. And it’s not just people like my grandfather making that argument. Our government policy is rooted in it.

The single greatest bit of evidence disproving the Lump of Labor idea comes from research about the Mariel boatlift, a mass migration in 1980 that brought more than 125,000 Cubans to the United States. According to David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, roughly 45,000 of them were of working age and moved to Miami; in four months, the city’s labor supply increased by 7 percent. Card found that for people already working in Miami, this sudden influx had no measurable impact on wages or employment. His paper was the most important of a series of revolutionary studies that transformed how economists think about immigration. Before, standard economic models held that immigrants cause long-term benefits, but at the cost of short-term pain in the form of lower wages and greater unemployment for natives. But most economists now believe that Card’s findings were correct: Immigrants bring long-term benefits at no measurable short-term cost.
Needless to say the "lump of labor" fallacy pervades politics, policy, and popular discussion on more than immigration. But Adam doesn't bother with the 100 other fallacies.

A beautiful stylistic choice: Adam's antagonist is ... his grandfather. That lets Adam have an anonymous, sympathetic antagonist, who is slowly changing his mind in Adam's favor. Adam doesn't have to pick on a particular individual or set of individuals with complex opinions; he doesn't resort to the horrible vague antagonist, "some think;" and he avoids the usual partisan politics and vilification of so much political blogging and editorial writing.

Students: notice concrete not abstract words. "Using the wages they earn to rent apartments, eat food, get haircuts, buy cellphones."  Not "Using earned income to demand goods and services."

No comments:

Post a Comment