From “America’s leading immigration economist” (The Wall Street Journal), a refreshingly level-headed exploration of the effects of immigration.
We are a nation of immigrants, and we have always been concerned about immigration. As early as 1645, the Massachusetts Bay Colony began to prohibit the entry of “paupers.” Today, however, the notion that immigration is universally beneficial has become pervasive. To many modern economists, immigrants are a trove of much-needed workers who can fill predetermined slots along the proverbial assembly line.
But this view of immigration’s impact is overly simplified, explains George J. Borjas, a Cuban-American, Harvard labor economist. Immigrants are more than just workers—they’re people who have lives outside of the factory gates and who may or may not fit the ideal of the country to which they’ve come to live and work. Like the rest of us, they’re protected by social insurance programs, and the choices they make are affected by their social environments.
In We Wanted Workers, Borjas pulls back the curtain of political bluster to show that, in the grand scheme, immigration has not affected the average American all that much. But it has created winners and losers. The losers tend to be nonmigrant workers who compete for the same jobs as immigrants. And somebody’s lower wage is somebody else’s higher profit, so those who employ immigrants benefit handsomely. In the end, immigration is mainly just another government redistribution program.
“I am an immigrant,” writes Borjas, “and yet I do not buy into the notion that immigration is universally beneficial. . . . But I still feel that it is a good thing to give some of the poor and huddled masses, people who face so many hardships, a chance to experience the incredible opportunities that our exceptional country has to offer.” Whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, We Wanted Workers is essential reading for anyone interested in the issue of immigration in America today.
When an economist wades into a contentious public policy issue, people may gain a better understanding of the nuances, but their underlying convictions are unlikely to change. Borjas, a Harvard professor who has studied the economics of immigration for decades, gamely attempt to explain the complex mix of benefits and drawbacks of the current and preceding waves of immigration to the United States, but his most dramatic conclusions are tempered by equivocal comments such as "We should not be shocked that different methods can easily generate radically different estimates of the gains" of large-scale immigration. His faith in statistics and rigorous methodology is a constant theme, and he finds "ideologically motivated assumptions and platitudes thoroughly unconvincing." Instead, he undertakes the analysis of a number of studies. That, of course, is a worthy approach for elevating a debate, but hearing that "it took nearly a century for the melting pot to do its job" makes it harder to evaluate the success of the American experiment in creating an immigrant nation. While Borjas will go as far as to say that immigration will create winners and losers, the book informs without offering particularly satisfying conclusions.