Tyler Cowen: moral imperatives for expanding immigration

I thought this segment of prof. Cowen’s NYT op-Ed was brilliant:

(…) Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, quantified these gains in a 2011 paper, “Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?” He found that unrestricted immigration could create tens of trillions of dollars in economic value, as captured by the migrants themselves in the form of higher wages in their new countries and by those who hire the migrants or consume the products of their labor. For a profession concerned with precision, it is remarkable how infrequently we economists talk about those rather large numbers.

Truly open borders might prove unworkable, especially in countries with welfare states, and kill the goose laying the proverbial golden eggs; in this regard Mr. Clemens’s analysis may require some modification. Still, we should be obsessing over how many of those trillions can actually be realized.

IN any case, there is an overriding moral issue. Imagine that it is your professional duty to report a cost-benefit analysis of liberalizing immigration policy. You wouldn’t dream of producing a study that counted “men only” or “whites only,” at least not without specific, clearly stated reasons for dividing the data.

So why report cost-benefit results only for United States citizens or residents, as is sometimes done in analyses of both international trade and migration? The nation-state is a good practical institution, but it does not provide the final moral delineation of which people count and which do not. So commentators on trade and immigration should stress the cosmopolitan perspective, knowing that the practical imperatives of the nation-state will not be underrepresented in the ensuing debate.

4 thoughts on “Tyler Cowen: moral imperatives for expanding immigration

  1. All the talk is about benefits to immigrants and employers.  What of the unemployed and underemployed competing with immigrants for jobs?  The only way an employer can benefit from immigration is if it reduces the cost of labor, which is a direct hit to the existing workforce.

    The raw economic analysis doesn’t include the cost of welfare benefits (immigrant-headed households are far more likely to receive benefits than natives) nor the damage to social capital, nor to the capitalist ethos that allows many businesses to exist in the first place.  Many immigrants are socialists (esp. Mexicans and Central/South Americans); importing new voters who’d nationalize industry and cap the pay of management is just selling rope to hangmen.

    • Thanks heaps for your comments. The direct and indirect impact of immigration and emigration is a tough topic. Similar to monetary policy in that the macro impacts are not at all obvious – many are quite counterintuitive. Anyhow, I’ve been studying immigration for a while, long enough to realize how far off-base my intuition was. Your comments prompted me to catchup slightly on some resources I hadn’t found time to post. I borrowed the title from last years Cato conference Is Immigration Good for America? I hope those resources offer some perspectives on your concerns.

      The raw economic analysis doesn’t include the cost of welfare benefits (immigrant-headed households are far more likely to receive benefits than natives)

      Have you some data to support that? What I’ve seen is the inverse. 


      • It may once have been the inverse, but the surge of unskilled immigration has changed lots of things.  Here’s a CIS report from 2007 which shows that immigrant household usage of welfare programs is more than 60% greater than that of native households:
        CIS report showing, among other things, that immigrant EITC eligibility is 2x the native level, and Mexican immigrant eligibility is > 3x native:
        And that was 12 years ago, before the Bush/Obama abdication of border and interior enforcement and outright war against states trying to enforce the terms of Federal immgration law.

        A 2007 estimate was that an amnesty would cost $2.6 trillion in benefit costs to the formerly-illegal, and that was before Obamacare added health subsidies to the bill.  Not only is expanded immigration suicidal, even legalizing the illegal immigrants already here would kill us.  The lot of them, including their children (native or foreign born), need to be returned.

      • Sorry, just got back to the boat. Your comment was held for moderation – due to links I guess. Anyhow I need to do some reading on your references, thanks.

Comments are closed.