Open Letter from 1,470 Economists on Immigration

Open Letter from 1,470 Economists (Including Me) on Immigration Dear Mr. President, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Minority Leader Pelosi:

The undersigned economists represent a broad swath of political and economic views.

Among us are Republicans and Democrats alike. Some of us favor free markets while others have championed for a larger role for government in the economy. But on some issues there is near universal agreement. One such issue concerns the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring.

As Congress and the Administration prepare to revisit our immigration laws, we write to express our broad consensus that immigration is one of America’s significant competitive advantages in the global economy. With the proper and necessary safeguards in place, immigration represents an opportunity rather than a threat to our economy and to American workers.

We view the benefits of immigration as myriad:

  • Immigration brings entrepreneurs who start new businesses that hire American workers.
  • Immigration brings young workers who help offset the large-scale retirement of baby boomers.
  • Immigration brings diverse skill sets that keep our workforce flexible, help companies grow, and increase the productivity of American workers.
  • Immigrants are far more likely to work in innovative, job-creating fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math that create life-improving products and drive economic growth.

Immigration undoubtedly has economic costs as well, particularly for Americans in certain industries and Americans with lower levels of educational attainment. But the benefits that immigration brings to society far outweigh their costs, and smart immigration policy could better maximize the benefits of immigration while reducing the costs.

We urge Congress to modernize our immigration system in a way that maximizes the opportunity immigration can bring, and reaffirms continuing the rich history of welcoming immigrants to the United States.

Must-read: Branko Milanovic: “There is a trade-off between citizenship and migration”

Must-Read: A surprisingly-large (to me) number of people have been trashing the very sharp Branko Milanovic for what seems to any normal economist to be an obvious point: At one pole is (1) restricting immigration far below the economically-rational level for any economic welfare analysis because the political system rejects providing full national-community citizenship rights and powers to every migrant. At the other pole is (2) completely decoupling political voice from geographic location and affective ties to the local community. The best policy has to be somewhere in the middle. Yet many more so-called “leftists” than really ought to or than I expected to see say that (1) is obviously correct, and that Branko is guilty of ThoughtCrime for thinking about where in the middle the proper balance might lie…

Branko Milanovic: There is a trade-off between citizenship and migration: “The rich world believes it has reached the limits of acceptable migration….

…We know that migration does more to reduce global poverty and inequality than any other factor. Calculations done by Alan Winters of the University of Sussex show that even a small increase in migration would be far more beneficial to the world’s poor than any other policy…. So is there a way to make greater migration acceptable to the native populations of the rich countries?… Most of a person’s lifetime income is determined by where he or she lives…. Citizens of rich countries receive a citizenship premium, while citizens of poor countries suffer a citizenship penalty. Migration is the attempt by the global poor to enjoy that premium, or at least a part of it, for themselves….

We [need to find a way to] redefine “citizenship” in such a way that migrants are not allowed to lay claim to the entire premium falling to citizens straight away, if at all… [to] assuage the concerns of the native population, while still ensuring the migrants are better off than they would be had they stayed in their own countries…. Migrants could be allowed to work for a limited number of years, or to work only for a given employer, or else be obliged to return to their country of origin… pay higher taxes since they are the largest net beneficiaries of migration…. This would require significant adjustments to traditional ways of thinking about migration and citizenship….

It is not clear that the old conception of nation-state citizenship as a binary category that in principle confers all the benefits of citizenship to anyone who happens to be physically present within a country’s borders is adequate in a globalised world. In effect, there is a trade-off between such a view of citizenship and the flow of migration…. If graduated categories of citizenship were created… we would be able to reconcile the objective of reducing world poverty with reducing migration to acceptable levels. If we do not do something, we will be stuck in a position in which everyone who makes it to the rich world is given full rights of citizenship, but we do everything in our power to make sure that nobody gets here.

Must-Read: Tim Harford: The Real Benefits of Migration

Must-Read: Tim Harford: The Real Benefits of Migration: “UK Home Secretary Theresa May gave a speech… designed to polarise…. She succeeded…

…One statement… found the spotlight…. (Translation: immigration costs us nothing but we want to reduce it anyway.) Is May’s summary of the evidence correct? Probably not…. But there was a far bigger lacuna… [that] most commentators… missed it…. Migrants… prosper hugely… yet that prosperity hardly ever figures in debates about immigration. This is odd. I would not expect schools to fare well on a cost-benefit analysis if we ignored any gains to the under-18s. Nor would hospitals look like a good investment if we counted only the advantages to non-patients. Yet it seems that migration may still be mildly beneficial even after disqualifying any benefit to the people most likely to gain–the migrants. That is remarkable….

One might make the case that because migrants are foreign nationals, we are entitled to make their welfare a lower priority. My colleague Martin Wolf is one of the few commentators to bother asserting this openly; most simply seem to assume that foreigners count for nothing…. Being open to migration from poor countries is perhaps the best anti-poverty programme that rich countries can offer…. Whether foreigners should count as sentient beings in a British cost-benefit analysis is something I’ll leave to the philosophers….

How real a problem is… brain drain?…. Where developing countries do train large numbers of skilled workers–as with the Philippines, a world centre for nursing and midwifery–they also manage to keep a reasonable number of them at home. And… migrant remittances… [are] three times as much as is sent in official development assistance. Migrant networks can help make trade flow smoothly too. Then there is the simple matter of respecting individual liberties…. If we have gained anything from the harrowing images of desperate refugees, it is an appreciation that they are human. Economic migrants are human too… not pheasants to poach; nor brains to drain.

Must-Read: Michael Clemens: The South Pacific Secret to Breaking the Poverty Cycle

Must-Read: Michael Clemens: The South Pacific Secret to Breaking the Poverty Cycle: “The average Tongan household that participated was earning just NZ$1,400 per year…

…before these jobs. The average worker who participated earned NZ$12,000 for just a few months of work. It multiplied low-income workers’ earnings by a factor of 10. Almost no other antipoverty project you’ve ever heard of can claim that. Imagine what that did to poverty…. This project was ‘among the most effective development policies evaluated to date.’ And it did that not by taking money away from New Zealanders, but by adding value to the New Zealand economy. What’s working against poverty? International labor mobility….

The last time the United Nations set global goals to fight poverty, back in 2000, it completely ignored the power of labor mobility. The Millennium Development Goals, bizarrely, mentioned migration exclusively in negative and harmful terms…. This time… [they] at least mention migration…. But they decline to mention any possibility of actually facilitating migration…. The authors… still think that mobility doesn’t matter much for global poverty. That just does not make sense in a world where remittances to poor countries are several times as large as foreign aid. It does not make sense in a world where barriers to mobility cost the world trillions of dollars every year. What’s working against poverty is international mobility. And it will keep working to help meet the Global Goals for fighting poverty–largely in spite of them.

Must-Read: Noah Smith: It Isn’t Just Asian Immigrants Who Thrive in the U.S.

Must-Read: Noah Smith: It Isn’t Just Asian Immigrants Who Thrive in the U.S.: “Nicholas Kristof… ask[s] the ‘awkward question’ of why Asian-Americans have been so economically successful….

…The focus on East Asians, and ‘Confucian’ culture, seems misplaced…. More than 43 percent of African immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher…. That education translates into higher household income. Nigerian-Americans, for instance, have a median household income well above the American average, and above… those of Dutch or Korean descent. This isn’t the power of Confucius. It’s the magic of high-skilled immigration…. Every society has its own version of what Kristof calls Confucian values. They are universal. And skilled immigration brings the families with those values to the U.S….

This isn’t to ignore the contribution of low-skilled immigrants, who work hard, pay taxes and commit relatively few crimes, despite what some conservative politicians now claim… [who] have enriched the U.S. enormously…. Nor should the U.S. worry about inflicting harm on the source countries…. Skilled people [who] move to the U.S…. end up helping their ancestral nations…. Instead of singing the praises of Confucian culture, the U.S. should be harnessing the power of its immigration system…. An economy with more smart, dedicated, ambitious people–no matter where they come from–is good for everyone, but especially for the working class.