Monday, August 15, 2005

Inconsistent Liberal views on Immigration and Trade

Michael Lind notes "orthodox liberals refuse even to mention the effects on the low-wage workforce of both legal and illegal immigration," supporting a policy "practically identical to that of cheap-labor conservatives like David Brooks, The Wall Street Journal . . . ."

Immigration of low-skill workers does harm low-income Americans. The argument that immigrants only take jobs Americans are unwilling to do is false. Americans would pick fruit and wash dishes if they were paid enough. Because there are plenty of immigrants willing to take these positions, the wages remain very low. There is no such thing as a labor shortage in a funtioning labor market, there are just employers unwilling to pay a market clearing wage. Immigrants I imagine, particularly undocumented immigrants, would also tend to undermine efforts to unionize: they are unfamiliar with, or afraid of, the law; many plan on returning to their home nation.

I am not anti-immigration, but we should accept that immigration can hurt sectors of the labor force in a manner similar to increased international trade. It is absurd that some liberals tend to be pro-immigration, claiming immigrants do not affect wages, while being anti-trade because of harms to low-skill Americans. The process of harming lower skilled workers is the same: increasing the supply in the low skill labor market.

I would like to see an honest US immigration policy: a large increase in the number of legal immigrants and a heavily enforced policy of punishing businesses that use illegal immigrants. The current US policy seems to be 1. keep legal immigration low, to placate the new "minutemen" types, while 2. accepting massive illegal immigration, for the sake of businesses that want to pay low wages to a population that cannot enforce its legal rights.

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