Friday, February 09, 2007

The Case for Open Borders

Immigration is accused of many evils. Immigrants supposedly steal ‘our’ jobs and leach off of social welfare programs. They are lazy and contentious, the ignorant proclaim, and they are here merely to cause trouble. How wrong they are. Immigration, if opened in the United States to all migrants, would benefit all Americans tremendously.

The most prominent argument against looser immigration is that immigrants steal Americans’ jobs by working longer and for less money. Even if this were really the case, being required to become more competitive in the job market is hardly the injustice anti-immigrationists espouse. The truth, however, reveals something vastly different. Immigrants in fact contribute to increasing employment among Americans as well as increasing wages that Americans earn. In recent years the United States has admitted a large number of immigrants, 9.1 million in the 1990s, along with an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants each year, and unemployment has actually gone down.

How is such phenomenon possible? After all, if there are more immigrants working, must not that mean that less Americans are working? Such is the logic of many detractors of open immigration. Their fallacy, however, is that there is not a fixed number of jobs available; in a growing economy, the amount of available jobs is always increasing. Indeed, immigrants contribute to creating jobs. Immigrants work, often for low wages, increasing companies’ productivity and profits. This in turn allows companies to hire more workers. Additionally, many immigrants start their own businesses, creating capital and hiring workers themselves. One must only look at Silicon Valley, where many (perhaps the majority) firms were founded by foreign born. Google, for example, was co-founded by a Russian immigrant, Yahoo! by a Taiwanese immigrant and Sun Microsystems by an Indian immigrant. All three companies have thousands of employees.

Wages are also increased by immigrants. A study by two Italian economists, Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, found that a flow of immigrants that increases the total labour force by 10% increases the wages of US-born workers by 3-4 percentage points. This is because immigrants’ skills are not identical to those of Americans and thus the immigrants and Americans complement each other. Americans, for instance, are less likely to be willing to work menial jobs unless they are highly paid. Immigrants on the other hand are readily willing to work such jobs as even the lowest paying American jobs oftentimes pay leagues better than the next-best alternative in their native countries. That is, after all, why they immigrate. As such, immigrants work low-paying jobs, freeing Americans to pursue higher-paying occupations. A mother, for example, can hire a foreign-born nanny at a low cost and return to work as an investment banker. Such an effect both increases employment and wages. Furthermore, as stated above, immigrants’ willingness to work for less increases the productivity of firms and allows them to both hire and pay more.

It is worried further that immigrants come solely to benefit from the welfare state – that is, they come not to work but rather to claim unemployment benefits. Such, as well as being empirically proven false, is logically nonsensical. Immigrants to the United States are by and large extremely poor, and the process of immigrating itself is arduous. Oftentimes immigrants come to the United States to support a family in their native country. Why then, would they settle simply for the meagre benefits they would get from leaching off the welfare state when their potential returns from working are so much higher? Immigrating to the United States requires courage and enterprise; does one assume that these qualities in an immigrant will simply evaporate once he reaches the USA, where he will subsequently become slothful? Besides, the benefits immigrants can receive, since the passage of the Welfare Reform Act of 1997, are miniscule.

Detractors state further that immigrants place strains on society. They contribute to overcrowding of schools, crime and general unrest. To say such is simply xenophobic. Immigrants contribute to the vibrancy and modernity of America’s cities. What would New York be, for example, without its immigrants? And without ethnic restaurants Americans would surely be worse off. Immigrants provide culture and diversity to America, not strife and turbulence. The United States is, lest we forget, a nation of immigrants.

Instead of spending billions to patrol our borders, the government should open them and regulate immigration, not block it. Of course, potential terrorists and former criminals should be denied entry, but on the whole immigration should be allowed and even encouraged. Americans pine so feverishly for freer trade yet they fail to realize that freer immigration has even greater benefits. The World Bank estimates that if rich countries allowed their workforces to swell by 3 percent by letting in an extra 14 million workers from developing countries between 2001 and 2025 the world would be $356 billion a year better off. Immigration is met with hostility, but for entirely illogical reasons. It is time for America to open wide its borders.


Peter said...

There ya go ya git, posted on me blog...

Anonymous said...