Migration and the least advantaged

by Chris Bertram on August 5, 2013

One reason to favour a more open and liberal migration regime is because of the gains in economic efficiency and prosperity it would bring, because of the benefits brought by younger and more active workers who pay more in taxes than they take in benefits, and so on. But when people voice this argument, there’s one response that is almost instantly trotted out. This is to say that, even if it true that a more open regime is better in the aggregate, it isn’t better for the least advantaged among the indigenous population because labour market competition from the incomers depresses wages and often leaves low-skilled native workers out of a job. Now conceding, if strictly for the sake of argument, that there might be other reasons to restrict immigration (cultural impacts on the native poor, whatever …) and focusing on the economic argument alone, I can’t see that this objection makes much sense. If there’s something that is good in the aggregate, but has bad distributive consequences, the solution is surely to use the tax-and-transfer system to fix those distributive outcomes. You could either do this directly (maybe, for example, taxing the surplus to fund a citizen’s or basic income) or indirectly, by funding better education or training. But it doesn’t seem to make much sense for forego the aggregate benefit.

Now an objection to this might be that, given a lack of confidence that political leaders will actually introduce such redistributive measures (rather than, say, letting aggregate gains flow to the one per cent), it is rational for indigenous workers and their political representatives to lobby for tighter labour protectionism via immigration controls. But given the obvious downsides to that second-best strategy, particularly in its divisiveness and its fostering of xenophobia and racism, it seems clear that the left should prefer to take the aggregate benefits and redistribute them. Certainly it seems as if the left should be making such an argument rather than just pandering to “anxieties” among their traditional constituencies as the likes of “Blue Labour” tend to do.

Two questions occur to me. First, am I right about the “in principle” economics of this? Second, are there respectable political counterarguments, even if I am right about the economics?

[Note that this post is not about the right of the state to restrict migration, a matter on which I’m far more sceptical than most people. It concedes that right for the sake of argument and focuses on what the best policy should be.]

{ 144 comments }

1

Matt 08.05.13 at 11:08 am

Howard Chang, and economist/lawyer who writes on immigration at Penn Law (and, I’ll add, a mentor and friend of mine- he was on my dissertation committee, among other things) has done good work on this subject, arguing for much the position you suggest here. He has several relevant papers, but I’d start with these:

The Immigration Paradox: Alien Workers and Distributive Justice
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1171943

Immigration Restriction as Redistributive Taxation: Working Women and the Costs of Protectionism in the Labor Market
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1141165

One thing to note is that, if various sorts of benefits are given, not all immigrants are expected to be “net contributors”, so in those cases there won’t be a net gain to redistribute to any “local” poorly off, though of course there will still be a (usually quite significant) gain to the immigrant, and the “cost” can be, in principle, redistributed. There are other ways to limit this particular problem, such as restricted access to benefits for a certain amount of time.

I think that Stephen Macedo has probably done the best to provide a counter-argumenet, though I’m not fully convinced by it when addressed to this question, at least.

2

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 11:12 am

Thanks for the references Matt!

3

Metatone 08.05.13 at 11:17 am

In principle you are correct, if the pie gets bigger then you could just redistribute the pie and compensate any disadvantaged groups.

However, the politics presents 2 problems:

1) Redistribution to the disadvantaged is the biggest battle in current politics, one that has been repeatedly lost over the last 30 years in general and even (since 1997) largely been lost inside the UK’s main party of the left likely to form a government (Labour.).

2) Power analysis is also important, realistically immigration laws tend to have been constructed for the benefit of business, against the power of indigenous labour.

Thus in the UK we have pantomime immigration checks at London Tube stations, but you can ship in cockle pickers from China and farm workers from the Ukraine, keep them as virtual prisoners, nearly slaves, but expect a raid once every 3 years or less and rarely get a conviction that will interfere with continuing the business. The effect of that is very specific local depressions in the wage due to immigration – and deep cynicism about the political responses, including your humane ones.

The USA has more examples of this further up the industrial chain – British industry has been lumping along for so long you can’t see that much of it outside of The City…

4

Foppe 08.05.13 at 12:14 pm

I’d say a good test case would be to try to figure out how the mass entry of women into the workforce has affected average wage and ‘prosperity’ levels.. I can tell you that it has done little good to average house prices (mortgage payments going from %age of male income to same % of family income), while wage growth has stagnated (in part because of international trade/liberalization).. Of course this has happened concurrently with the influx of migrant/’guest’-workers into the various EU member states, but my gut tells me that the main reason those were let in was because “indigenous workers refused to do the worst jobs (at the pay levels offered)” — i.e., at corporate command, and that there never would’ve been “political support” for fewer migration controls without “business support”, from New Labor and Tory (and equivalent parties/coalitions) everywhere it matters, even while Old Labor was probably making the exact same observations you are making here (about redistribution), with their protestations being duly forgotten. In other words, I don’t see ‘fair immigration’ happening inside our current institutional political structures, except insofar as it furthers business interests, while the xenophobia that follows from it only taken as a boon (as it distracts from economic discussions by focusing on cultural issues).

5

SamChevre 08.05.13 at 1:21 pm

I have come more and more to think that “use the tax-and-transfer system to redistribute benefits” does not work well. I know (after all, my degree is in economics) that is should, and I am not certain whether the issue is political or simply human nature.

It is very hard to develop a tax-and-transfer system that has the same cultural effect as a work system. You see this in Appalachia, and in the Rust Belt cities–people who depend on the transfer system, and are materially no worse off than when there were jobs–but are very unhappy about that.

6

chris 08.05.13 at 1:23 pm

Redistribution to the disadvantaged is the biggest battle in current politics, one that has been repeatedly lost over the last 30 years in general and even (since 1997) largely been lost inside the UK’s main party of the left likely to form a government (Labour.).

True, but if you’re losing that battle, you’re losing it, and changing your immigration policy won’t magically make you win. In fact, if the immigrants can eventually become citizens and vote, they might wind up on your side of the redistributive battle.

This seems like a better argument for ignoring immigration policy completely (and reserving your firepower for the more important distribution fight) than for taking one particular position on it.

7

FredR 08.05.13 at 1:41 pm

“If there’s something that is good in the aggregate, but has bad distributive consequences, the solution is surely to use the tax-and-transfer system to fix those distributive outcomes. You could either do this directly (maybe, for example, taxing the surplus to fund a citizen’s or basic income) or indirectly, by funding better education or training.”

This sounds like the basic neoliberal critique of every traditionally leftist position.

8

Joshua W. Burton 08.05.13 at 1:43 pm

rather than, say, letting aggregate gains flow to the one per cent

Or to the immigrant population itself (and their families abroad). If a subsistence-wage peasant over there (whose happiness has almost no political value to “us”) becomes a productive low-wage worker here, world productivity clearly increases, and by the usual Ricardian argument domestic productivity also increases. But the “us” that native politics cares about doesn’t immediately include the immigrant (which is why we make him work for many years before we let him vote) and the “us” that actual natives care about may not include the immigrant for a generation or more (because of linguistic and cultural barriers) and will never include his village back home. If the surplus were going to the one percent, it is at least conceivable that we could claw it back. But if it’s going to new poor, who were even poorer before they came, the old poor may be worse off without hope of a redistributive fix.

I think a lot of anti-immigrant emotion springs from an intuitive calculation along these lines. From around the (English-speaking) dinner table where bills are paid, the immigrant success story looks like a foreign aid boondoggle funded by a regressive tax on wage labor. The understandable tendency of immigrants to dwell in ethnic enclaves makes it even harder for the nativist to see the immigrant’s surplus product raising his boat — “they don’t even shop at our supermarkets.”

9

david 08.05.13 at 1:43 pm

Didn’t New Labour succeed, at least prior to the GFC, at redistributing the gains from immigration?

One major effect of any net population rise is a rise in the price of urban real estate. A state that taxes all land rent can redistribute the entire appreciation. But most states do not capture this rental stream, so the gain from migration is distributed elsewhere – possibly in proportion to shares of ownership of urban real estate. The interactions with the minutiae of housing policy are complex.

Say (plausibly, as per the econometrics) that the gains to the migrant are orders of magnitudes larger than the gains to the individual (and generally much more numerous) incumbents. Compensation for whatever perceived slights is therefore generally gouged out of the migrant’s gain in income from economic migration, in the form of fees on the employee, employer, permits, visas, non-eligibility for social services paid for in taxes, etc. A political question is then how to deal with the migrant’s possible eventual aggravation from being treated differently from native workers. “Equal pay less your immigration fees for equal work” does not quite resonate.

There seems to be a large amateur literature worrying about the effects of mass emigration on the country of origin, but I have never seen this elaborated without being either (1) in obviously bad faith, or (2) seething with thinly-disguised hatred and illiberalism.

10

JW Mason 08.05.13 at 1:56 pm

First, am I right about the “in principle” economics of this?

Redistribution is itself economically costly. There is no guarantee that the net gais to be distributed will exceed the costs of distributing them. Dean Baker has written about this.

given the obvious downsides to that second-best strategy, particularly in its divisiveness and its fostering of xenophobia and racism, it seems clear that the left should prefer to take the aggregate benefits and redistribute them.

This sounds a lot like, “Given that I am right, it is clear that I am right.” I could just as well say to you: Given the obvious failure of governments to do anything for the losers from migration, it seems clear that the left should prefer to build an anti-migration politics that doesn’t foster xenophobia and racism.

11

Barry 08.05.13 at 2:04 pm

Seconding Metatone and Sam Chevre. Chris, your neoliberal argument has been tested again and again in the USA over the past few decades. So far, I’m not aware of any time that it’s not be wrong – deliberately wrong, because most of the people advancing it have no intention of carrying out the bargain. I’m not accusing you of dishonesty, but anybody who makes this argument is standing with and working with highly dishonest people.

12

Alex 08.05.13 at 2:12 pm

Tax-and-transfer isn’t the only way of redistributing the gains. If the unionisation rate could rise, or macroeconomic policy keep the labour market tighter, that would have the effect of increasing the wage share of national income. If it’s a given that otherwise, immigration benefits immigrants and businesses, you can make a case for “predistribution with immigration” or similar.

13

Charlie W 08.05.13 at 2:15 pm

It does look to me as though getting states to cooperate on tax policy and distributive outcomes is always going to be a feat, given that defectors (i.e. low tax states) are supposedly easily able to win business and inward investment, hence limiting (or so it’s said) the potential for realising policy that’s explicitly redistributive. At the same time, while cooperation between states is also key to realisation of the right to freedom of movement (the fullest freedom comes from universality of open borders) capital might well be content with a world in which some states are relatively open, some are relatively closed, and most discriminate in their immigration policies. If some sort of immigration restriction gets you a better distributive outcome within your borders, and is more feasible than a redistribution scheme that relies for its continuation on cooperation between states, then why not argue for it? Why is it not respectable to argue for it?

14

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 2:21 pm

Brief replies:

@ Barry (and some others) The fact that neoliberals standardly hold out the possibility of compensatory transfers to redistribute the gains from liberalization and that the redistribution then fails to occur is certainly a reason to be suspicious of them and is a significant fact about recent political history. But the fact that some people have used the idea of a redistributive policy in bad faith doesn’t seem to be a reason for people acting in good faith to refrain from developing and advocating redistributive policies that do in fact capture the gains.

@JWM Thanks for the Dean Baker link. There are few guarantees of anything in life, but some redistributive policies involve few distortions and are less administratively costly than others. I mentioned basic income in the post, and advocates claim that it fares better than other transfer schemes in these respects. However, I’m not an economist and I accept that whether a redistributive schemes could be devised that captured (without too great loss) the gains from a more liberal migration regime is an empirical question.

@JWM the left should prefer to build an anti-migration politics that doesn’t foster xenophobia and racism.
I rather doubt that such a politics is possible. YMMV, of course.

15

JW Mason 08.05.13 at 2:22 pm

If the unionisation rate could rise, or macroeconomic policy keep the labour market tighter, that would have the effect of increasing the wage share of national income.

Sure. And if our international trade and financial system could do more to support development in poor countries, there would be no need for mass migration in the first place.

16

JW Mason 08.05.13 at 2:28 pm

I rather doubt that such a politics is possible.

Maybe not. However, there are also reasons to doubt whether signifiacntly enlarged redistribution programs are possible, and whether — as SamChevre and other suggest — they could really substitute for the status and social power (not just income) that come from work.

We can of course judge the practical possibilities differently. From where I’m sitting , the failure of the Euro project is a big blow against the idea that the left should accept the dismantling of the egalitarian politics that still exists at the national level, in the hopes of building something better down the road. But YMMV, as you say.

What you cannot do, is make the practical difficulties on one side a reason to ignore the practical difficulties on the other. And that’s how this post reads, at least to me.

17

david 08.05.13 at 2:31 pm

@15 JW Mason

And if our international trade and financial system could do more to support development in poor countries, there would be no need for mass migration in the first place.

Are you sure? The Ganges river basin alone has five hundred million people. Even in Social Democratic Global Utopia, why shouldn’t there be massive migration from the floodplains of Asia to somewhere a little less crowded?

18

Metatone 08.05.13 at 2:38 pm

@David, while there are some big and crowded cities in the Ganges river basin, the basin itself is actually huge, so crowding isn’t that big of an issue per se, it’s more about infrastructure.

19

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 2:38 pm

@JWM I accept your point about status and social power (which I removed from the scope of the post to focus on the narrower question). However, I fail to see where, in arguing for extensive national redistribution, I advocated or accepted the “dismantling of the egalitarian politics … at the national level”.

As for practical difficulties. Well, my own view (outside the scope of the post) is that the human costs and rights violations associated with effective anti-immigration enforcement are morally unacceptable. Given this, better to find a way of sharing the gains than sticking with barriers, detention centres, deportations, trafficking, separated families, and all the rest of it.

20

adam.smith 08.05.13 at 2:39 pm

yeah, just to pile on – and I’m surprised Chris isn’t aware of this – this is the standard argument rolled out by neoliberal economists in favor of their favorite piece of reform – free trade, deregulation of the financial sector, capital account liberalization, removal of labor market regulation etc. etc. (so I guess in the sense of “agreeing with mainstream neoliberal economists” you do have the economics right)
Someone on some lefty-academic blog posted a good critique of this type of apolitical thinking, let me find it, ah yes: http://crookedtimber.org/2011/07/18/the-limits-of-left-neo-liberalism/

(FWIW I think there are many compelling arguments for immigration, most principally a humanitarian/cosmopolitan one)

21

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 2:49 pm

@adam.smith the standard argument rolled out by neoliberal economists in favor of their favorite piece of reform

Actually, the standard argument they roll out is that everyone will benefit, because a rising tide lifts all boats. The argument here is that there will be benefits in the aggregate and that the left needs to devise policies to redistribute those benefits. I’m not unaware that implementing redistributive policies is hard and that there are political constraints to doing so.

22

mpowell 08.05.13 at 2:58 pm

So I don’t know how this works in the EU, but in the US my understanding is that most of the research points to recent immigrants being the most negatively impacted by new immigration. That is, if you are a lower class white person, you don’t really see any negative pressure on your wages due to immigration from Mexico, Central America, South America, etc. Whether this is true or not is really a pretty big deal because virtually none of the opposition to relaxed immigration control in the US is actually coming from recent immigrants. If those people aren’t upset about it, I don’t think liberals should be upset about it on their behalf. It is primarily coming from white people, poor or not, who are either confused about the economic impact of additional immigration (positive or neutral for them) or have other reasons to be unhappy about it. But either way, this changes the political calculus quite a bit. If you’re a liberal who has reviewed the literature and decided that you agree with this interpretation, there is no principle of justice that would really prevent you from advocating for more relaxed immigration control. It’s just a question of who you can persuade within your coalition.

23

adam.smith 08.05.13 at 2:58 pm

@21 Chris – but that’s simply not true. Some economists think that about immigration – and the empirics of it really are, best I can tell, quite unclear. But the “prefer the free market solution and let taxes&redistribution handle the rest” really is the standard neoliberal approach.
From the right – see Mankiw on free trade here:
http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2008/05/case-for-free-trade.html
“But a progressive tax and transfer system, rather than restricting international trade, is the most effective way of achieving that goal. Once again, the economic gain or loss compared to the restricted-trade equilibrium is no special relevance.”
To the left – Yglesias on dismantling of public services:
“My view is that the government should try to provide public service in a cost-effective way rather than viewing public service agencies as a jobs program. Then if you want to do redistribution—which I certainly think we should want to do—just do the redistribution.”
http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/09/15/tax_and_transfer_win_the_war_on_poverty_with_redistribution_.html

You can spend 20mins on google to find a gazillion more examples of this.

24

Metatone 08.05.13 at 3:06 pm

To clarify something I implied in my earlier post:

Part of the problem is that economists and commentators claim that immigration has no real ill effects. They do this using models that assume redistribution occurs and that immigration laws are not set up to dilute the power of indigenous labour.

It seems to me that it’s no mystery given that why “average voters” aren’t going to support any principled stance on immigration.

The irony of all this is that I support immigration and am horrified at both the incompetence and the racism of this government’s reforms. But it seems to me that you can’t fix the culture and attitudes around immigration unless you can face up to the failure to redistribute and the failure to hold business abuses of the immigration system to account.

To add another story to the mix, I’m not aware of any economics study that looks at the effects of immigration on the cleaning sector in London. Yet these are jobs well documented to be sub-contracted on to vulnerable immigrants, thus saving large corporations money on their cleaning bill, at the expense of labour.

Here’s some stats from a fairly reputable source:

http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/migrants-uk-labour-market-overview

– The share of foreign-citizens in total employment increased from 3.5% in 1993 to 9.2% in 2011.

-The increase in the share of migrant labour has been greatest among process operatives (e.g. food, drink and tobacco process operatives, plastics process operatives, chemical and related process operatives) up from 8.5% in 2002 to 28.2% in 2011. As discussed by Aldin et al. (2010) a significant share of relatively skilled recent migrants have taken up employment in less-skilled occupations in the UK.

That’s an adjustment you would expect to be ok across 20 years or so. But, that Global Financial Crisis really adds to the strain. I don’t see how you can be surprised that there are tensions – or surprised that absent credible, meaningful redistribution, immigration is unpopular.

25

bianca steele 08.05.13 at 3:09 pm

There seem to be two arguments for free migration: it’s more humane for the people who want to migrate (mostly, a lot of the time, they ought to be able to share in the riches of rich countries, the same way people in rich countries are supposed to do), and it’s more efficient so it grows the pie. I think I’ve rarely seen the latter defended on CT.

The argument for the former seems to be in part that it’s degrading both to be a cop and to be subject to police enforcement. But is it really better to, say, live five to a room in a three-room house than to have inspectors enforce housing regulations and fine landlords even if, at some level, they wouldn’t be bothering unless the people were immigrants and poor? That’s an argument against enforcing housing regulations for everyone. But this is an argument I hear, elsewhere, usually from people defending things like off-books frat houses. (Occasionally, admittedly, from local NGOs who run their own housing subsidiaries of various kinds.)

26

david 08.05.13 at 3:10 pm

@18 Metatone

Unfortunately, it is not tenable to pave over the Ganges basin – it is too valuable as arable land, which already constitutes about two-thirds of its area today.

As crowded as India’s cities are, they would have to be completely implausible to absorb the remaining rural population of the basin, unless you visualize several megalopolises about ten times the population of what the world has today anywhere, including in the American northeast, squashed into the same land area without replacing any of the farmland that feeds those people. India is still majority rural.

27

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 3:10 pm

@adam.smith Fair enough, I accept those as examples. Nonetheless, there’s a difference between gesturing vaguely in the direction of the theoretical possibility of redistribution and saying that we need to devise policies that effect redistribution. I’m not a big fan of trade restrictions (the Mankiw example), but I can think of lots of reasons to run less that completely cost-effective public services (Yglesias).

28

bianca steele 08.05.13 at 3:19 pm

And I can see how some of the pressure on those arguments if lifted if you really have a social welfare system, where housing that complies with humane standards is available and affordable. But still, regulation enforcing those standards would be perceived by welfare recipients as a restriction on their own choices.

29

JW Mason 08.05.13 at 3:21 pm

Adam.smith is right: the argument here is identical to the neoliberal argument for free trade, including the emphasis on compensation for losers.

my own view (outside the scope of the post) is that the human costs and rights violations associated with effective anti-immigration enforcement are morally unacceptable.

To me, at least, this is a much stronger argument than the one in the post.

30

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 3:25 pm

Summarizing, there seem to be three kinds of negative reponse so far:

1. You’re wrong about the economics because the redistributive programme would eat up all the gains through distortions and administrative costs (JWM channelling Dean Baker).

Reply: maybe, that’s an empirical question and I’m open to correction.

2. Given the politics, the redistribution is always going to be “jam tomorrow” therefore [less explicitly] we should forego the aggregate gains in order to protect the least advantaged [presumably by enforcing tough restrictions on labour-market access].

3. You may be right about the economics, but other considerations ought to trump the economics. [Reply: not relevant, because explicitly excluded from the scope of the post for reasons of focus and clarity.]

31

Ronan(rf) 08.05.13 at 3:25 pm

“This seems like a better argument for ignoring immigration policy completely (and reserving your firepower for the more important distribution fight) than for taking one particular position on it.”

This seems right, more or less. The political left ignoring immigration policy would be a huge positive, afaict

32

adam.smith 08.05.13 at 3:26 pm

Chris – these might be a debate on rhetoric only – substantively I believe we agree entirely on the politics (pro immigration, pro massive redistribution). I’m unhappy with the linkage between the two: If you have an idea on how to advance a massively redistributive agenda, I want to see that happen regardless of immigration policy. If you have an idea on how to promote a more open and humane immigration policy, I want to see that happen, regardless of any redistributive policies accompanying it.
If we were in a position where linking the two would produce a compromise getting us both – i.e. if there was a larger coalition to be forged between pro-immigration and pro-redistribution forces with a potential to give us both, that’d be great. But at least in the US, the pro-redistribution group is an almost complete subset of the pro-immigration group (i.e. there is hardly anyone in the US who is for redistribution but anti-immigration). Maybe this is different in the UK and that’s where you’re coming at this?

33

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 3:34 pm

@adam.smith Yes, there’s a whole bunch of people in the UK who purport to be pro-redistribution and anti-immigration: David Goodhart, Frank Field, the Blue Labour people around Glasman … and then there’s a bunch of Labour people who don’t counter the anti-immigration rhetoric because they believe it would be politically costly. And then there’s the curious phenomenon of people on the right of politics who suddenly discover protective feelings towards “the white working class” and the welfare state when immigration policy comes up but mysteriously lose those feelings in all other contexts.

34

mud man 08.05.13 at 3:34 pm

a lack of confidence that political leaders will actually introduce such redistributive measures

Howcum limiting labor to a cost of production and mandating all the value-add to flow to the rentiers doesn’t count as “redistributive” policy?? Stupid question, sorry.

35

chris 08.05.13 at 3:34 pm

Public services are actually a form of redistribution, if either they don’t charge user fees, or the fees are low relative to the service provided. (E.g., libraries.) If you already have something better, you don’t use the public service; if you do, you get a bargain.

it seems clear that the left should prefer to build an anti-migration politics that doesn’t foster xenophobia and racism.

That would be a neat trick. Any anti-migration politics by definition includes the tenet “those people don’t deserve to live here”. I don’t see where else you go from that starting point.

Anti-migration is inherently illiberal (even before you start looking into the enforcement mechanisms necessary) because it grants different people different rights depending on their place of birth. If you try to combine it with some kind of economic leftism you’ll at best get some kind of authoritarian egalitarianism (and that’s if it isn’t coopted into authoritarian faux-egalitarianism, e.g. practically every People’s Socialist Republic of Tyranny).

36

Mao Cheng Ji 08.05.13 at 3:52 pm

“Any anti-migration politics by definition includes the tenet “those people don’t deserve to live here”. “

As the man said: “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Just a matter of national self-determination. So long as nations still exist…

37

LFC 08.05.13 at 4:29 pm

I wonder if or how the question of size plays into the politics of immigration in the US vs the UK. The UK is a small, relatively crowded country; the US is a big, relatively uncrowded country (although the coasts and some major metro areas in all parts of the country are fairly crowded). Arguably, there is a lot more room for immigrants in the US to lose themselves, as it were, in the general population. This would affect the ‘cultural’ inputs into (or aspects of) the politics of immigration probably more than the strictly economic ones, but it may be worth raising for consideration. (I recognize, of course, that in certain states like Arizona and Texas and California immigration has been and continues to be a ‘hot’ issue b.c of their proximity to Mexico, but that’s a separate point.)

P.s. A slight digression: as Joshua Burton observes upthread, immigrants in the US may tend to cluster in their own communities and thus be identifiable in terms of where they live, but that’s only a tendency. As a (partial, anecdotal) counterexample, I happen to live in an area that is fairly multiracial/multiethnic. Not a utopia by any means (and perhaps still somewhat unusual), but better than segregation by race/ethnicity.

38

david 08.05.13 at 4:32 pm

So long as social classes exist, so long as racial identities exist, all moves toward equality are folly, is that it? Because from where I’m standing, there are still rich men and poor men, and white men and black men, and sometimes there are even wo-men too.

39

Joshua W. Burton 08.05.13 at 4:32 pm

Chris @30: Summarizing, there seem to be three kinds of negative reponse so far . . . .

My response @8 was intended to make a fourth objection, namely that “the economics” of aggregate utility depend on the scope of aggregation. If immigration makes the whole country richer but “the true country” of nativist perception poorer, then the redistributive problem is not conventionally progressive (rich vs. poor) but instead basically tribal, and is therefore a problem which liberal statecraft is not (and should not be!) good at addressing.

40

lupita 08.05.13 at 4:35 pm

JW Mason @ 15

if our international trade and financial system could do more to support development in poor countries, there would be no need for mass migration in the first place.

If the tables were turned and the West were experiencing mass emigration, I doubt the focus would be on how welcoming, distributive, and non-racist people in Bolivia, Zimbabwe, and Iraq were. Most probably, the situation would be considered a national tragedy and a total collapse of the system.

Discussing the pros and cons of mass emigration from poor, subservient countries is like discussing the pros and cons of slavery. You are simply missing the point.

41

LFC 08.05.13 at 4:39 pm

lupita @40

actually JWM is not missing the pt: he’s implying that just as slavery was a wrong, so too is poverty and what used to be called ‘underdevelopment’

42

Charlie W 08.05.13 at 4:41 pm

I’m wondering if there’s a useful analogous argument that ignores borders and divisions between states. For instance, the entry of young trained adults into the labour force puts older, perhaps less well trained adults at a disadvantage, therefore (some might argue) we should restrict the entry of young adults into the labour force. Opponents of this could argue, in a similar manner to the OP, that aggregate output is maximised by allowing employers to hire as many young people as they want, therefore we should allow just that and seek to compensate the newly redundant older workers via transfers. I have to say this position looks pretty solid.

43

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 4:48 pm

@Joshua Thanks, yes. Indeed there are various scope problems like this. There was a recent argument on Jonathan Portes’s blog where Martin Wolf was arguing that the only people whose welfare matters for policy are the existing insiders. You are pointing to a politically salient cut within the insider group between “real natives” and recent immigrants too. Good integrationist and/or anti-racist policies could help with that by creating a more plural national identity (cf Sunder Katwala’s BritishFutures think-tank) so I think liberal statecraft can do something to alleviate the problem.

44

lupita 08.05.13 at 4:49 pm

LFC @ 40

JWM is not missing the pt

I agree. My intention was to expand a bit on the point he had made.

45

Norwegian Guy 08.05.13 at 4:49 pm

People complaining about the cost of immigration usually don’t complain about all immigrants in aggregate. Rather, their claim is that non-Western immigrants are a net burden. Immigration from other Western countries are usually assumed to bring economic benefits. And so we get economists discussing how people from this country cost us this much, those from there cost that etc. It can get quite ugly very fast.

46

Joshua W. Burton 08.05.13 at 5:16 pm

Chris @43: Good integrationist and/or anti-racist policies . . . .

Yes, certainly the liberal state can help encourage such a reframing; I only meant that it’s illiberal for statecraft (in particular, tax policy) to “correct” the as-perceived tribal “wrong” by pro-nativist redistributive measures.

The African-American Great Migration of the early 20c is an instructive (not entirely hopeful) model, which proves that the immigrant scoping problem doesn’t require a policed border, but merely an impoverished “them, there” who become “them, here” before becoming “us.” With Detroit in the news this month, it is worth remembering that whole economic systems are often less durable than the “transient” identity issues attending the absorption of economic migrants.

47

Mao Cheng Ji 08.05.13 at 6:02 pm

38 david: “So long as social classes exist, so long as racial identities exist, all moves toward equality are folly, is that it?”

I have no problem with the OP; it was a reply to comment 35. Anyway, your racial identity is your personal business. In regards to the social hierarchy, however, there’s, too, more to it than “deserve/don’t deserve”. Like with the nations, it’s a fundamental concept. It’s complicated. It’s not fair, but if you undermine it – just because it’s unfair – things might fall apart. And they might turn even more unfair.

48

Barry 08.05.13 at 6:28 pm

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 2:49 pm
“I’m not unaware that implementing redistributive policies is hard and that there are political constraints to doing so.”

There’s ‘hard to do’, and then there’s ‘d*mn near impossible’. My point is that we’ve seen these promises before, and I can’t recall much in the USA where they’ve been kept.

49

Marc 08.05.13 at 6:34 pm

We have a global economic system with vast differences in quality of life depending on where you’re born. Chris thinks this is immoral, thus open borders are the only acceptable solution. I sympathize with the sentiment. There are a couple of problems with this. The first is the acceptance of the status quo in these countries: the idea that people who are born and raised in a given culture should be expected to leave if they want to better their lives. This is a convenient safety valve that inhibits change in the donor country.

The second is the idea that nations have no obligations to their own citizens. By the same logic one could argue that a nation like the UK should spend public welfare dollars in the place with the most need – in other words, that the extremely poor in the third world, and not the poor in the UK, should be where money is spent. It’s obvious that this amounts to harming one vulnerable population at the expense of another, and the same thing may be true for unlimited immigration. *If* I can empirically establish that the poor in a given country are economically harmed by immigration – and there are clear losers, neoliberalism to the contrary – then does this matter at all?

One could also apply the same analogy to the household level: in what sense is private property itself defensible in this framework? These are deep problems that come from the underlying premises, and they can’t be dismissed by assertion.

50

SusanC 08.05.13 at 6:43 pm

It possibly depends on what you mean by “better in the aggregate”, but I would think the increase in productivity caused by 1 new immigrant is not necessarily large enough to be redistributed, even leaving aside the political practicalities of doing this.

If the immigrant is (say) a computer programmer from India with a specialist skill that’s in short supply, then the increase in productivity probably is worth it (e.g. if they earn a salary of £100,000 p.a. in the UK, pay UK tax on that, and they really didn’t put any UK nationals out of work because their specialist skill really was in short supply).

On the other hand, someone who comes to the UK to do some low-paid semi-skilled occupation may be able to do it marginally better than any of the UK nationals competing for the job, and so gets offered the job in preference to them, but may not be more than twice as productive as the other applicants, and so is unable to to earn enough to support both themselves and the person who would otherwise have got the job.

P.S. Charging employers for work permits would be one obvious way to arrange the redistribution and to deal with issue that employers may be lying when they say there is no-one with an existing right-to-work who is qualified to do the job. If the employer is willing to pay £10,000 p.a. for a work permit for the hypothetical Indian computer programmer, that’s fairly convicing evidence that they couldn’t find an EU national to do the job, even if they offered a salary that was up to £10,000 pa higher.

51

Chris Bertram 08.05.13 at 7:08 pm

Marc: your telepathic powers apparently permit you to deduce (a) my position on the rights of states to exclude and (b) a commitment to global luck egalitarianism. However, the post specifically excluded those considerations of right from discussion by assuming that states do have the right to exclude. My actual positions are a bit more complex than you attribute to me, anyway.

52

LFC 08.05.13 at 7:26 pm

Marc @49
Countries have obligations to their own citizens; they also have obligations to end absolute/extreme poverty globally — which, by the way, they paid at least lip service to at the 2000 UN summit that produced the Millennium Development Goals. The notion that governments/countries have either one set of obligations or the other is wrong.

53

Akshay 08.05.13 at 7:39 pm

While, for obvious personal reasons, I am sympathetic to immigration and strongly opposed to xenophobia, at the moment I can only offer Chris Bertram some worries:

In the style mentioned by Norwegian Guy@45 the Dutch CPB (Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis) offers this grimly pessimistic report on the idea that immigration is a win-win. Part of the pessimism is due to the terrible Dutch “guest worker” policy of the 60’s and 70’s. A large number of low-skilled immigrants were encouraged to come to the country specifically in order to forestall wage increases. In the end, many ended up being replaced by machines or by Chinese, and got dumped in ghettoes with no prospects and with only the welfare state to look after them. It turns out that such a policy does cost the state money. While I am sure better immigration policies can and have been implemented, I fear that this experience is pretty representative of “Really existing immigration policies” in much of Western Europe, and an important reason why the pro-immigration case has become so hard to make around here. The report also mentions tensions between generous immigration and the welfare state.

I recall (sorry, no reference) reading about a comparative study of elite post-revolution Iranian refugees who went to the US and Europe. The US ones did vastly better and returned to elite status, while the Europe ones dropped several steps on the social ladder. Partly this was ascribed to cultural factors (the US being an immigration country and more understanding of the difficulties of recent immigrants) and partly to flexible US job markets: employers found it easier to overcome their distrust and hire people as they could fire them easily. I’ll let the reader decide on the moral of this story.

A further issue to think about would be the global justice aspects of brain drain. It is mostly associated with the third world, but with the Eurocrisis I am starting to wonder what will happen to Latvia, to Bulgaria, and to Greece and Portugal, if the young start leaving in large numbers? Will entire countries start to depopulate and collapse, as is now happening on a regional scale?

54

mpowell 08.05.13 at 8:13 pm

This brain drain issue – has anyone ever produced more than a narrative as to how it is harmful for a developing country? It’s not a convincing narrative to me and I’ve wondered if anyone has ever tried to back it up with data.

55

Ronan(rf) 08.05.13 at 8:22 pm

Here’s a rundown with papers at the bottom from 8 years ago

http://www.migrationinformation.org/feature/display.cfm?ID=324

It’s difficult to know unless you’re an expert, I guess, and can remove the hyperbole from the reality
My take is it depends on the context

56

TheF79 08.05.13 at 8:37 pm

If you’re thinking about the economics of this, it’s probably useful to distinguish between Pareto Efficiency and Kaldor-Hicks Efficiency. The argument you’re making is Kaldor-Hicks, and has been pointed out is a common “neoliberal” argument for free trade – another context where this commonly arises is gasoline/carbon taxes, which are regressive. The pie gets bigger, so in theory, we can take some surplus from the winners to compensate the losers. The “rising tide lifts all boats” is a stronger Pareto argument that literally everyone is better off.

The standard rebuttal to Kaldor-Hicks style arguments are more or less those made above – while everyone can be compensated in theory and made at least as well off, the actual mechanism by which that arises in reality is expensive/corrupt/non-existent.

57

primedprimate 08.05.13 at 8:49 pm

While practical issues of redistribution and philosophical arguments about rights and responsibilities are indeed very important, it may help to keep in mind that the magnitude of potential aggregate gains from freer migration could run to trillions of dollars. That’s the claim made in this provocative paper by Clemens. The paper also discusses many important economic arguments and devotes a section to the issue of brain drain and brain gain.

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adam.smith 08.05.13 at 9:03 pm

@mpowell 54 – a good question. I think overall the trend of the research has been to see brain drain more positively today than it was seen 20 years ago. The main positive effect that people find is the dynamic effect on local human capital formation – in other words, if getting an attractive job abroad (or even through internal migration) is sufficiently likely, investment in education (both individually and institutionally) becomes much more attractive. There is a fair amount of data to support the existence of that effect, including neat micro-studies such as
http://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/32285/1/504318837.pdf
Whether it outweighs the human capital depletion due to migration is an empirical question that seems to vary by country. Quite plausibly, estimate suggest that the negative effect dominates in small countries with high outward migration, whereas large countries (mostly with smaller % of outward migration) benefit. http://econweb.umd.edu/~Lafortune/puc-readings/Beine_Docquier_Rapoport_2008.pdf

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novakant 08.05.13 at 9:13 pm

The baseline assumption for many seems to be that migration causes trouble and costs money – it is treated as a problem to be solved. If only everybody stayed in their place of birth, everything would be nice, orderly and prosperous – no or at least less problems.

This assumption is simply wrong, on many levels. And one doesn’t have to argue that migration doesn’t cause any problems to maintain that. It’s just that without migration we would have a whole bunch of other problems on our hands – just imagine all immigrants would leave the UK tomorrow, what would be left?

60

Mao Cheng Ji 08.05.13 at 9:28 pm

It’s not a brain-drain anymore, it’s just a drain. 45% of Moldova, apparently. The last one out please turn out the lights. Fine with me, but it doesn’t seem like a solution to anything at all. See JW Mason @15.

61

novakant 08.05.13 at 9:44 pm

Fine with me, but it doesn’t seem like a solution to anything at all.

Well, it’s a solution for those who emigrate – are they supposed to sit on their asses and wait for better times in Moldova?

And this is not a phenomenon restricted to transnational migration. What about all the bright young things leaving their hick towns to go make it in the big city?

62

lupita 08.05.13 at 9:59 pm

novakant @ 60

What about all the bright young things leaving their hick towns to go make it in the big city?

I think a distinction should be made between natural migration – people moving around, getting to experience new places, falling in love with a foreigner – and mass migration due to war, famine, colonialism, and repression. If 15-20% of a nation suddenly flees a region, the solution requires something more than the populations of rich countries being diverse, non-racist, and in want of additional nurses, engineers, and agricultural workers, preferably young, healthy, and strong .

63

Ronan(rf) 08.05.13 at 10:06 pm

lupita
I think we’re talking more your first category though, ie economic migration. Richer countries don’t generally like accepting those fleeing war or famine. That’s left to regional countries to deal with

64

prasad 08.05.13 at 10:21 pm

It’s worth noting that something like 70% of the global variation in income is explained by location – typically place of birth. Class within societies only accounts for the remainder. We think class is morally significant, and get all sniffy about people who don’t care about inequality enough. But really only inside nice gated communities which are walled off to keep out the slum dwellers.

65

Mitch Guthman 08.05.13 at 10:56 pm

Just off the top of my head, I think there are three objections to unrestricted immigration that need to be considered:

1. Unrestricted immigration would certainly finish off trade unionism. Unrestricted immigration is incompatible with trade unionism and the right to organize and bargain collectively. The differences in population and wages between the Western European countries and places like, say, India, China or Bangladesh are so great that there would probably be an enormous, unrelenting downward pressure on wages and benefits because of the easy availability of “replacement workers,” happy to work for a tiny fraction of the wages paid even now to indigenous workers in England.

And even if the supposed economic gains are distributed (which all non-academics know isn’t going to happen), the extent to which the transferred wealth will improve the lives of the economic migrants will be like pissing in the ocean; the European workers will suffer greatly, while the people in or from, say, Bangladesh or China will see, at best, an imperceptible and probably “one-time” increase in living standards.

2. Unrestricted immigration is incompatible with the social welfare state. In the real world, there just isn’t any way to raise up the Western European economies to such an extent that they can provide social welfare benefits for people in those countries and for anybody in the world who wants to move to England or Germany or France in search of a better life and a social safety net.

3. Unrestricted immigration is incompatible with environmentalism (because that’s a concern of the middle classes). The interest in having cleaner air and water, like the interest in regulating what can go into our foods and how they are made seems historically to have been confined to societies with large middle classes. The likely mass migration from societies with huge populations and their accompanying problems of poverty, pollution and corruption are likely to be replicated as the huge number of replacement workers finishes off a middle class which is (again, outside of academia) under tremendous pressure.

If having lots of cheap, unskilled labor was the key to economic success, the third world wouldn’t be so poor. There aren’t any labor unions in India, China or Bangladesh (and many other places) and the huge populations and problems of poverty have made it impossible to organize. Again, the changes in European societies probably wouldn’t make much of a difference to academics who have organized themselves against competition but most of the working and middle classes would be improvised as European society was restructured to look more like that of the countries people are fleeing, namely, a small but immensely rich elite; a small middle class of “upper servants” like lawyers, doctors and the classe politique and everybody else living like animals.

66

Matt 08.05.13 at 11:21 pm

There aren’t any labor unions in India, China or Bangladesh (and many other places) and the huge populations and problems of poverty have made it impossible to organize.

This is wrong on two levels. On the first, labor unions do actually exist in these places. On the second, to the extent that labor unions are hobbled in those nations (and elsewhere), it is more by explicit anti-union laws rather than an excess supply of workers. The whole point of labor unions in any nation is that they overcome the “natural” state of atomized, abundant workers underbidding each other while courting organized employers.

67

Pat 08.05.13 at 11:47 pm

I’m pretty sure you’re right about the “in principle” part, as well as the practical limitation. The Grand Bargain struck in the 20th century—capital gets greater profits due to liberalization, but taxes and the safety net expand to insure the net benefit to workers—has been observed only by one side. One more political wrinkle: If immigrants are not allowed to vote, liberal immigration dilutes the political strength of the working class. (I’m pretty sure I owe this insight to Paul Krugman, but my Google Fu is not strong.)

68

Mitch Guthman 08.06.13 at 12:12 am

Matt @ 65,

It isn’t just the legal barriers to organizing that keep India, China and Bangladesh from having effective unions. I think the pressure of societies with vast population, mostly living in unimaginable poverty is the critical factor. Since societies in the West were able to organize but those organized along the lines of the countries mentioned never did and probably never will, the problems of extreme poverty and huge populations are not ones that should be casually dismissed.

But also, I don’t understand how this economic growth translates into better lives for people who are already in Western Europe, Japan or the US, particularly given the real world experience (which has been described by many people commenting here) showing that nearly all of the supposed gains in productivity and so forth have utterly failed to trickle down to the people.

I also don’t see how a mass migration of people from these other countries wouldn’t destroy the social welfare state and most of the middle classes, along with trade unionism.

69

Ronan(rf) 08.06.13 at 12:19 am

“I also don’t see how a mass migration of people from these other countries wouldn’t destroy the social welfare state and most of the middle classes, along with trade unionism.”

Depends on what you mean by mass migration. I sympathise with the idea that uncontrolled immigration might do so, but that’s not the topic of this post or a realistic outcome. Has immigration destroyed the welfare state so far? No. And will any realistic amount of immigration in the future do so? I’d reasonably guess no as well.
The welfare state has expanded in a number of western countries in the last few decades, even if inequality had gotten worse

70

Ronan(rf) 08.06.13 at 12:25 am

I’m open to correction, but afaict post war social democracy was built on the exclusion of a number of groups (non whites in some countries, women, the non unionised, the world outside Western Europe/North America) so there are real questions of distributional politics (domestically, internationally) which can’t be blamed on the plutocracy etc

71

adam.smith 08.06.13 at 12:27 am

I’m kind of struck by the fact that several commenters (e.g. Mitch @64 and Marc @49) seem to think that there is no alternative between the status quo and “no restrictions on immigration” or a radical cosmopolitan ethic, whereas that’s where I’d situate most reasonable immigration policies.

72

John Quiggin 08.06.13 at 12:29 am

@Ronan Certainly not true as regards women or (assuming you treat the New Deal as US social democracy) US non-whites. The removal of most of the economic discrimination against women took place in the social democratic era, as did the big movements on civil rights in the US. And non-unionised workers generally benefitted from conditions won in the unionised sector.

The international story is more complex, but the general pattern was one of convergence.

73

Matt 08.06.13 at 12:37 am

At least arguably related to this debate is Robert Putnam’s work on social trust as a necessary feature of the welfare (or other redistributive) state, and the worry, expressed by Stephen Macedo in his paper, “The Moral Dilemma of U.S. Immigration Policy: Open Borders vs. Social Justice?” in Carol Swain, ed., _Debating Immigration_, that this work shows a serious incompatibility between large-scale immigration and economic redistribution (not just w/ open borders, despite the title.) My own view is that Will Kymlica and several co-authors have done a lot to show that this claim is, at least, not _generally_ applicable, but that’s compatible with it being a serious problem in certain societies.

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Ronan(rf) 08.06.13 at 12:39 am

JQ
I’m not overly committed to that position, (because I really dont know), but I’m thinking more that the system couldnt be maintained after women and (in the case of the US anyway) African Americans joined the workforce..if you see what I mean
If you dont I can try and expand on it, but it’s more a question than a declaration (As in could the economy have created enough jobs to take in these new workers, would the unions (as they were run) have allowed it etc)
Or does that even make sense as a way of looking at it

75

Matt 08.06.13 at 12:47 am

India appears to have only a few tens of millions of unionized workers, in a nation with over a billion citizens, so that does fit your theory. The powerful in Bangladesh thought that unions would be too effective despite poverty and population pressure, otherwise it wouldn’t have been illegal (until June 15 of this year) to organize unions without the permission of factory owners in Export Processing Zones. Likewise, Chinese authorities don’t permit independent trade unions, a strange prohibition if unions would “naturally” fail to make any progress.

While unions in the US would in any case have faced greater challenges as the rest of the world developed after WW II, I wonder how different it might have been if not for Taft-Hartley and all the other domestic laws explicitly passed to hobble American unions. All those “right to work” states don’t think that unions would be sufficiently helpless without the help of the legislature.

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Mitch Guthman 08.06.13 at 1:31 am

adam-smith @71,

I think that’s implicit in Chris Bertram’s and it’s also very strongly implied his invocation of moral principles (which he seems to conflate with certain economic principles and his distaste for throwing economic migrants out of countries or preventing them from entering). If I’m mistaken, then it seems to me that there needs to be some discussion by proponents of whatever it is that’s being proposed, describing their principled method for discriminating among economic migrants. If it is immoral to exclude some now, wouldn’t the same moral argument apply with equal force to say that it was just as immoral to exclude anyone, ever?

Similarly, if immigration by economic migrants is inherently desirable because it somehow expands the economic pie, then unlimited immigration would seem to be most desirable because the economy would presumably expand to reflect however many migrants would come and the West would experience commensurate growth and prosperity. So, if you and others aren’t talking about unrestricted immigration, what are you actually suggesting and to what extent are you acknowledging the need to pull the ladder up at some point—and, again, what’s your principled basis for telling people in, for example, India, Vietnam or China that it’s tragic, but the doors are shutting and they’re stuck where they are?

77

Mitch Guthman 08.06.13 at 2:02 am

Ronan(rf) @ 69,

We must be reading different newspapers. The social welfare state looks to me to be collapsing everywhere in the European periphery and is under an attack in the core states like England and France. Even the socialist government in France is talking about rolling back some aspects of social security and other parts of the social welfare. The whole edifice of the welfare state, not to mention Europe itself, seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse.

The carrying capacity of Europe as a modern social welfare state seems to have been reached and I don’t see how another wave of economic migrants from outside Europe is going to help Spanish or French workers to improve their situations and increase their wages. The last wave of economic migration, which was encouraged specifically to break unions and depress wages, caused nothing but problems for most of the people of Europe (especially those without academic sinecures) and has contributed greatly to the political and economic difficulties faced by England and Europe.

Obviously, I also agree with some of the other commentators that there are many other contributing factors for the economic difficulties and the rebirth of the Europe’s old demons. Globalization, the rise of finance and the unrestricted movement of capital and, of course, the gross stupidity of the Euro. So, yes, there’s many, many other problems but I just don’t see how a huge number of unemployed, difficult to integrate and largely unemployable people migrating to Europe or elsewhere in the West is going to improve the lot of 99% of the indigenous peoples of the West.

78

Martin Bento 08.06.13 at 2:03 am

Doesn’t it seem like this is a debate that will circle around forever and get nowhere? Poorer people in wealthy countries – and even wealthier people whose jobs are threatened by immigration – are not going to support liberal immigration if it is not in their interest. It may be theoretically possible through redistribution to make it in their interest, though this is itself debatable, but it is not politically possible given the power structures that exist in the world and people’s attitudes towards welfare, including the attitude of recipients. This is all without any hostility to foreigners as such. Though there is also that.

May I suggest another approach? A living wage campaign aimed at making living wage laws a requirement for most favored status at the WTO. No, it is not possible in the short term. Yes, the WTO was created to serve the opposite interests, but the World Bank and IMF were created as Keynesian institutions and co-opted; let’s return the favor. Here are what I see as the advantages:

1) A basic problem is that the interests of rich and poor country labor are basically opposed. To be effective in a global economy, the labor movement must itself be global, which means it must find a way to bridge this gap.
2) The benefit to rich country workers is that the wage arbitrage advantage of poor country workers is reduced “protecting American (or UK) jobs”. It is not eliminated, as a “living wage” is based on the local cost of living, looking basically just at necessities (Ipads may cost the same everywhere, but rents vary enormously. You need a roof more than an Ipad.). So the poorer countries still get to have an advantage, but not as drastic a one as now, and it slowly melts away as they become more affluent. The underlying principle is that employers can seek labor that is monetarily cheaper, but only if there are maintaining a comparable, or at least a minimum, standard of living for employees. They are moving to cheaper countries, but not actually paying less value to employees.
3) Of course, protecting American jobs does not sell well to the Chinese. What they get out of this is the kind of enforced improvement in living standards that can create a middle class society, at some cost, at least for a while, to absolute growth in jobs (perhaps not absolute economic growth, as a middle class society grows better than a highly stratified one. Hence, this may in the long or perhaps even middle run be better for employment too). Markets create the productivity to make a middle class society possible, but they don’t realize that possibility unless pushed, or at least they haven’t historically. Basically, the rich countries get something short term, the poor ones get something long, and labor and the poorer people in each country get a net gain – or at least can, there obviously are a lot of variables here.
4) This is better than allowing immigration, because most people seem to prefer living in their own societies if they can do so comfortably and because it will never be practical to allow all who wish to immigrate to the rich countries to do so.
5) This is a very simple comprehensible goal with comprehensible objectives and a well-defined marker of success. The meme can therefore be spread very efficiently. It is not a modest goal, so it can inspire a lot of work; it is worthy of the movement it will require. Call it “the movement for a global middle class”. It will not be easily reversed once achieved.
6) Although I am suggesting the WTO as a means, partly for the irony, there is no reason to be married to that. It will require some kind of international treaty arrangement, but we can be flexible as to how this is achieved, provided it is legally enforced.
7) First step is to establish living wage requirements in rich countries. Some would hold existing minimum wages to be adequate, though I think that is true, at best, only in the lowest-rent rural areas. A clear definition of a living wage is obviously something the movement would have to work out.

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Marc 08.06.13 at 2:19 am

@51: What limits on immigration, if any, do you view as permissible for a nation? It certainly sounds like you’re advocating open borders – if not, and if you want an actual discussion, what precisely are we being asked to consider as an ideal?

80

Peter T 08.06.13 at 3:42 am

One can frame this issue in relatively abstract terms: politics (any politics) revolves around a community, not an aggregation of autonomous and undifferentiated individuals. And a community has boundaries. Who is in, and what the terms of life are for those in, matters. Without the boundaries and the terms, there is no politics – and, though a lot of formal economics does its best to pretend otherwise, no economy. much redistribution above the household level is now an affair of states: they are the communities of relevance for the question. It was not always so, and it may not be so again, and the same issue occurs at lower levels – Uighurs, Tibetans, Chechens, Welsh and Meghalayans all have problems with unrestricted migration into their communities that are not solved by better redistribution.

CB’s framework takes the whole of humanity as the relevant community, but we have not worked out a practical politics for the whole of humanity that can address most of the issues involved – who gets what share, whose standards apply and how they shall be agreed and so on. The latest attempt to build a much larger structure now has Germans telling Greeks (and others) to just re-arrange all their established social patterns. And few here would argue for the re-arrangements the Pacific Partnership contemplates, and which is likely to incur the same resentments.

So we are stuck with deciding how many migrants, what sorts, on what terms, because the alternative is to abandon national politics in favour of something larger but much less democratic, or things smaller but with fewer resources and therefore more exclusionary. If we recognise this the questions become ones with a more empirical flavour.

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adam.smith 08.06.13 at 5:05 am

@Marc, Mitch: Conceptually I think this is very easy. I can easily make an ethic case for caring about non-nationals but not weighing that concern equally to non-nationals. I think that’s pretty common. E.g. I do think that I’m ethically obligated to care about other people’s kids’ well-being, but that surely can’t mean I must care for them to the same degree as for my own children.

In terms of specific policies, I’m a pragmatist. I’ll just take the most liberal immigration policies that are at all politically feasible, which are still going to be lightyears apart from open borders. From there, I’d just do gradual adjustment & testing of policies. I think what’s good policy is partly an empirical question and I want to see its impacts. Some steps I think would be obviously good in the US case:
– fast-ish path to citizenship to immigrants already in the country, quasi-automatic citizenship to anyone who came here under the age of 14.
– sure, do some border control, but do a lot less
– turn the Morton memos into official policy rather than guidelines. Remove the threat of deportation for any immigrant w/o felony convictions.
– make sure immigrants feel safe to send their kids to school, file complaints with the police as well as regulatory agencies like OSHA, go to the ER etc.
– Treatment of fugitives (war, political prosecution etc.) along the lines of how Cuban fugitives are treated
– facilitate permanent residency for anyone who gets a college degree in the US

So those are the simple steps which are already way beyond anything that’s going to happen in the US. I don’t think any of this is particularly radical. It’s mostly just a question of human decency, something that’s utterly lacking in US immigration policy.
We could then look into some other ways to facilitate legal migration – the national quotas probably need significant tweaking and expansion in many cases, greencard lottery could probably be expanded etc. I haven’t thought about these in much detail.

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JW Mason 08.06.13 at 6:02 am

In general, I do agree with Chris B. that beyond some point restrictions on movements across borders are morally indefensible. (Though we might not agree on exactly where that point is.) I also beleive that people who have permanently settled in a given state, regardless of how they arrived there, are absolutely entitled to the rights of citizenship.

So on the big picture I’m with Chris, and I’m just as disgusted by the current strain of anti-immigrant politics in the UK, the US and elsewhere. What I object to is the specific form of the argument here.

First, the claim that it is always feasible to compensate the losers is not true, even in principle. Partly because, as I said, the same economic logic that says compensation is possible also says redistribution is costly; and partly because work provides important rewards other than income, which cash transfers will not replace. (And no, you may not exclude this from the scope of your argument, if it’s precisely the loss of these other rewards that people are worried about.)

Second, you can’t handwave away the practical political question of whether existing states will in fact compensate the losers. The argument here contrasts an ideal liberalism with actual nationalism, so of course liberalism looks better. Maybe a more redistributive state is a more achievable goal than a non-racist policy of immigration restriction. Very possibly! But as others have pointed out, redistribution is a very important goal already, for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with migration. So it seems to me a much more natural way to follow the logic of the post, is to say that the left should forget about immigration one way or the other and focus on expanding the welfare state, strengthening unions, etc. Once this has been achieved, then we can focus on reducing barriers to migration.

I should add, this all starts from the premise that immigration hurts working and poor natives. I’m not convinced this premise is true. I think for both the US and UK (don’t know about elsewhere) it’s really rather hard to find evidence linking higher immigration to unemployment, falling wages, weaker unions, etc. So it seems to me that Chris has surrendered a strong ground for opposing restrictive immigration policies (that immigration does not hurt the least advantaged natives) for a much weaker one — that even if it does hurt them there’s no problem, because the technocrats will make it all better.

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JW Mason 08.06.13 at 6:09 am

I should add, the form of the arguments matters! Because by arguing for migration liberalization as he does here, Chris is also effectively endorsing the logically equivalent arguments for trade liberalization, capital account liberalization, labor market liberalization, etc. Freeing people to trade will always raise efficiency, in the simple models being implicitly drawn on here. So if you follow this liberalize-and-redistribute logic to its conclusion, you eliminate all the sources of social power available to the unpropertied.

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Mao Cheng Ji 08.06.13 at 6:34 am

novakant “Well, it’s a solution for those who emigrate – are they supposed to sit on their asses and wait for better times in Moldova?”

Of course it’s a solution for those who emigrate, or at least they believe it is, since they do emigrate. But it’s not a solution is the sense that is being discussed here, not a solution to social and economic problems.

Something that would improve the situation in Moldova would be a solution, but, ceteris paribus, liberalizing the immigration regime in the UK does not help. Morphine is not a cure.

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john b 08.06.13 at 6:56 am

Is the view espoused by Mitch at 77 a common one promoted by US publications? Because AFAICS it is false in two extremely obvious ways:
1) despite right-wing parties enthusiastically promoting tokenistic ‘being nasty to poor people’ policies largely for their own amusement (e.g. the Bedroom Tax), European social security spending is not being significantly cut at all.
2) there is absolutely no correlation that anyone sensible has proposed between Europe’s current economic situation and immigration over the preceding couple of decades.

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Chris Bertram 08.06.13 at 7:38 am

Hmm, it is rather frustrating to have written a post where I deliberately exclude certain issues from the argument, then to find that people like Marc and Mitch want to introduce them as being, supposedly, among my core premises. The post assumes that states have an unlimited moral discretion to exclude and assumes the economic well-being of the national population as being the goal of policy. If the argument were an unbounded one on migration rights and migration policy, then I’d reject both of those assumptions. But it seems as if some commenters aren’t familiar with the technique of assuming something for the sake of argument.

@JWM Of course you are correct that the form of the argument is the same, but I wouldn’t say anything stronger than that it shifts the burden of proof somewhat. So, if blocking trades among consenting adults offers the prospect of welfare gains, then why would we block them? Answer: all kinds of reasons. For example, we might not want some goods traded at all (kidneys, sex, whatever – examples illustrative only) and might want to make people unfree to engage in some trades so that they can’t be coerced into making them (health and safety requirements, minimum wage laws).

The issue here is whether we want to exclude foreigners from the labour market when there appear to be gains on offer. And you want to say “what about the (domestic) losers?” and I want to reply: “let’s see if we can design and implement policies that get us (some of) the gains whilst protecting the losers.” There might be good reasons why we can’t develop or implement such policies in circumstances of real-world politics, but what I’m hearing instead (mainly not from you, to be fair) is generalized scepticism based on induction from recent experience plus outraged shouts of “neoliberalism!”

(A final point. We already have, to quite a large extent, open borders in the sense that those borders are open to capital. So those people who write about competition with Indian and Chinese workers need to wake up: where do you think those Apple factories are? The horse has bolted. What some sceptics above are de facto arguing for is a restriction on the movement of labour in a context where capital is free to hire labour anywhere.)

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Zamfir 08.06.13 at 8:32 am

Chris, what about the inverse of this position? If these redistributive policies are to be paid from the assumed gains of immigration reform, does that mean that these policies are unaffordable or unfair without such reform?

That’s a conclusion that neoliberals are typically very comfortable with, when they make similar arguments. They at least claim to be happy with more free trade+ more redistribution, and if they can’t get it they are also somewhat happy with less free trade + less redistribution.

That’s different for typical leftist politics. They want those redistribution policies anyway, and they won’t get any bargaining credit if they combine it with immigration reform. If anything, it makes them vulnerable to opponents who smile and say “ah, so it’s now agreed that we can’t pay for those policies without some reforms”

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Vanya 08.06.13 at 8:36 am

Do tight immigration controls really foster “xenophobia and racism”? The US was a far more xenophobic and racist society prior to the 1920s than it was in the 1950s, after decades of immigration restriction. European society is hardly becoming less xenophobic and racist as immigration increases.

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Alex 08.06.13 at 8:43 am

65: the UK had, during the high postwar era, essentially unrestricted immigration from places like Nigeria and Pakistan. It is not obvious to me that the UK welfare state disappeared, or trade unions lost influence, or concern for the environment declined, between 1945 and 1979! In fact, the revival of Toryism happened *after* the 1971 Immigration Act.

This ought to be a trivial point of fact, but far too many people seem to believe that the postwar consensus and immigration were separated in point of time. They were simultaneous phenomena. Empire Windrush arrived, to dramatise the point, in the same year as the NHS Act ’46 went into effect – in fact, about two weeks before.

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SusanC 08.06.13 at 8:44 am

@86. This reminds me of The Correct Way to Argue with Milton Friedman. If you see an economist making a bunch of assumptions that are clearly false in the real world, there’s a good case for jumping in and pointing out that this makes their whole argument totally irrelevant to reality, rather than letting them attempt some logical sleight of hand where they then try and pretend that this counterfactual argument implies something about the real world.

On the other hand, showing that a line of argument is invalid even if you accept it’s clearly false assumptions has a certain amount of merit.

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Alex 08.06.13 at 8:52 am

84: Of course it’s a solution for those who emigrate, or at least they believe it is, since they do emigrate. But it’s not a solution is the sense that is being discussed here, not a solution to social and economic problems.

Are you really arguing that a) “do X and redistribute the gains” is out of the question because you can’t be certain in advance that the redistribution will occur, and also that b) emigration is no solution because there might be some other policy that would help the potential emigrants? If a) is true, it strikes me that the same argument means the potential emigrant would be better off emigrating, already, than waiting for jam tomorrow.

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Stuart Ingham 08.06.13 at 9:52 am

I think you may have somewhat surprisingly ended up at the Brownite position. Allow miss migration despite (because of?) the fact it is a wage depressant on the least well off, let business grow the pie and then tax and redistribute the proceeds through credits.

The question as to whether this is the optimal solution from the perspective of democratic social justice (that is social justice within a polis rather than any cosmopolitan concerns we may have about the benefiting the least well off outside of the polis) rests on whether we consider all forms of income as having equal value. For whatever reason people seem to value income gained through tax credits (and other forms of direct redistribution) less than the same amount received through direct income.

Perhaps this is because they know it is subject to the capricious will of politicians? However, I imagine it is no less capricious than the market. Almost certainly less so. Perhaps income gained without the medium of state redistribution has greater capacity to develop our sense of self-respect? It is a line that the right certainly wish to push. Rawlsian can’t help themself to the claim that engaging in a system of democratic justice develops our sense of self-respect without taking alternative empirical claims seriously.

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Chris Bertram 08.06.13 at 10:19 am

@Stuart

Yes I think that’s right. My point in the OP was to canvas a possible reply to people who accept that immigration brings aggregate gains but then make the distributive point (Goodhart, for example). It is quite correct to say that other things may matter to well-being as well as where people end up in narrowly monetary terms. However, when I said in the OP that we could redistribute the gains directly or indirectly, I had half an eye to this sort of further objection. So instead of direct transfers you might use the gains to improve education and training to give the least advantaged better labour market opportunities.

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Chris Bertram 08.06.13 at 11:35 am

@Stuart and just to add an addendum to that, and to take things away from “neoliberalism” somewhat, the combination of capturing-gains-from-trade/redistribution, doesn’t have to be realized via the neoliberal welfare-state capitalist route (though that might be the easiest way to think about it). A Rawlsian property-owning-democracy with a liberal immigration policy and highly-*PRE*distributive institutions might be possible too.

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Mao Cheng Ji 08.06.13 at 11:53 am

Alex, 89

I haven’t said anything about redistributing the gains. I don’t get the premise, frankly. Suppose she is a school teacher in Moldova making $500/mo, that is not even paid every month. So, she will immigrate to the UK, where she’ll be cleaning toilets for $1200/mo, and that will help the cleaning companies forestall automation of the cleaning industry. Where is the gain here? I see none.

As for “potential emigrant would be better off emigrating, already, than waiting for jam tomorrow”: of course. And also, she could be better off dead. Or becoming a prostitute. Or working at a collapsing Bangladeshi factory. So what?

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Stuart Ingham 08.06.13 at 12:49 pm

Chris,

I agree with you, and Rawls, that a property-owning-democracy is better placed than welfare-state-capitalism to deliver the ideal of distribution being organised to benefit of the least advantaged. However, I don’t think this helps your attempts to show that a liberal policy on migration is arguable for by the same principle.

One of the reasons that migration ‘grows the pie’ is that it reduces the cost of labour. As a policy it makes the ex-ante distribution less egalitarian. However, as it grows the pie it opens up the possibility of an advantageous ex-post (state transfers) distribution for the worst off. Thus working in the framework of welfare-state-capitalism there is a prima facie argument for mass migration, abliet subject to the objections raised. It is probably the best policy option to try organise the economic system to the benefit of the least advantaged given the sort of economic system we find ourselves in.

We might, of course, imagine an institutional design where reduced labor costs were not to the disadvantage of labourers (because they are also capital owners. i.e. a property owning democracy or liberal socialism). In such a scenario no problematic redistributive transfers would be necessary. However, it is hard to see how the influx of a group of mostly propertyless workers moves us closer towards such a situation. If anything it makes its realisation more difficult.

Your argument thus turns to ‘if we had a property-owning-democracy then dem0cratic justice would recommend a liberal migration policy’ this is a step of abstraction further on from ‘if our welfare-state-capitalism behaves as it should then justice recommends a liberal migration policy.’

I think then, to make your argument work, you’d be better placed using the traditional but wrong interpretation of Rawls- a defender of the welfare state.

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SamChevre 08.06.13 at 2:12 pm

Reading through the discussion, here would be my objections on “is redistribution possible.” (Note that I’m basically in favor of barely-limited immigration on the pre-1920 model; I’m also in favor of a night watchman state–Jacob Levy is substantially more pro-government than I.)

(I’m focusing on working-class immigration of workers. Immigration of elite workers, of capital-owners, and of benefits-recipients, raises different sets of questions.)

1) A large portion of the benefit from immigration goes to the immigrant. This is probably not redistributable without impoverishing immigrants, who are already relatively poor.

2) Some of the benefit from immigration flows to consumers as lower prices; this is notably true in agriculture and the building trades. This benefit would be hard to capture and redistribute.

3) Some of the benefit of immigration flows to the employers of immigrants as capitalists. This would be reasonably possible to capture, to the extent it is not passed on to consumers as lower prices.

4) Some of the benefit of immigration flows to owners of capital as landowners. This is probably already substantially captured by property taxes.

On the cost side:

1) Some of the costs are borne by existing workers as lower cash compensation.

2) Some of the costs are borne by existing workers as worse working conditions and lower bargaining power. (Notably, immigrants are frequently OK with less-flexible, less-permanent employment; this is especially true for immigrants who plan to return home eventually, but even those who plan to stay in the country are usually less tied to a particular location.)

3) Some of the costs are borne by people who are not able to get work due to greater competition; these are often the worst-off of the workers. (The ones who have health problems that make them less reliable, or are less competent, or are new entrants.) These costs are both in cash and in social networks–the costs of being unemployed include that it makes you less employable.

4) Some of the costs are borne by everyone who competes for land with immigrants, in the form of higher rents.

I think that the benefits capturable from capitalists (benefits 3) probably can offset the cash costs to those excluded from the workforce (costs 3a). I am uncertain that the other costs can really be offset, or that there are any gains to capture that would offset them.

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magistra 08.06.13 at 2:20 pm

I don’t think Chris or others have so far addressed one problem with large-scale immigration: the strong pressure it can put on local services. If 10,000 Scots come to London over 10 years, it’s likely to have little impact, because they’ll probably be dispersed in time and space. If 10,000 Poles/Syrians come to a few boroughs of London (because that’s where they’ve got contacts or where they’ve been dumped by the Home Office) over 1 year (because immigration controls have now been relaxed or there’s a refuge crisis), that can have a big effect on local schools and also the local social housing market. (It is likely to have much less effect on the health service, because economic migrants and possibly even refugees tend to be younger and fitter than average). In the long-term, such people may well help “grow the pie”; in the short-term they require more local government resources.

So part of redistribution would require a more effective and rapid way of directing support to local government to deal with such issues. Which won’t be easy given that the UK is instead moving more and more towards taking autonomy and funding away from local government, as well as skewing the central government funding system towards helping areas of prosperous white Middle England.

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JW Mason 08.06.13 at 2:50 pm

I forgot to mention another very important point on the economics. The possibility of compensating redistribution requires the assumption of full employment (of labor and other resources). If the factors displaced by trade or migration would otherwise go unemployed, then it is not the case that voluntary trades will produce gains for society in the aggregate.

Take a simple example: Suppose British cleaners earn E5 an hour, while Modovans doing the same work earn E1. Bringing in Moldovan immigrants to clean British homes and offices will produce a surplus of E4 per cleaning hour, shared in some proportion between the immigrants, British cleaning companies, and the users of cleaning services. But if the British workers who formerly did those jobs are now unemployed, their loss will be E5 per hours. So there is no possible redistribution scheme that could compensate them.

The assumption that redistribution is always possible depends critically on the assumption of full employment. Then as British cleaning wages fall, the workers who leave cleaning work always move to a next-best option that leaves them no worse off, so if there are gains to the immigrants, employers, and/or consumers then there must be positive gains overall.

In an economy which is continuously at full employment, the gains to the winners from trade/migration are ALWAYS sufficient to compensate the losers.

In an economy where total expenditure is fixed (e.g. by demand constraints), the gains from trade/migration are NEVER sufficient to compensate the losers.

Real economies of course fall somewhere in between. But an economy in a deep recession is almost certainly closer to the latter case than the former.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.

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Chris Bertram 08.06.13 at 3:42 pm

JWM, if displacement were the problem, then wouldn’t you expect the least advantaged indigenous workers to be worst off in those locations to which the aspiring immigrants travelled? However this doesn’t seem to be the case in the UK, where the places where the labour market is really terrible for British workers are those areas with the fewest migrants (the North East, especially).

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JW Mason 08.06.13 at 4:04 pm

Chris-

But I DON’T think displacement is a problem, as I said @82 (and I think earlier). That’s the position from which to oppose new immigration restrictions: Immigration does not harm native workers.

What you’re doing is conceding the premise that native workers are harmed, and then trying to find some reason to favor unrestricted immigration anyway. That’s a mistake. Once you concede the premise, you’ve conceded the whole show. And put yourself in some sketchy company, as well.

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Alex 08.06.13 at 4:08 pm

Suppose she is a school teacher in Moldova making $500/mo, that is not even paid every month. So, she will immigrate to the UK, where she’ll be cleaning toilets for $1200/mo, and that will help the cleaning companies forestall automation of the cleaning industry. Where is the gain here? I see none.

About $700/mo, reliably, to the immigrant? Compared to either nothing, or promises?

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JW Mason 08.06.13 at 4:11 pm

(I do think that the reasoning of 99 applies to trade.)

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Marc 08.06.13 at 4:19 pm

The politics of income transfer are incredibly toxic in the US. When we had the housing bubble we had a lot of mortgages for far more than the houses were worth. These loans were never going to be repaid, and there was a strong economic case for simply writing down the mortgage to a realistic level and writing off the excess.

However, it’s hard to understate how politically unpopular this was – there is a reason why the response was so timid. People who didn’t buy into the housing market didn’t want to subsidize those who did. Similarly, there is sympathy for the safety net (food for children, for example, or medical care for the elderly.) But welfare is extremely unpopular even among cohorts that support it. And there would be almost no popular support in the US for paying people who can’t get work because of competition from immigrants. We have a real “I’ve got mine Jack, and I worked for it” mainstream culture to contend with in the US>

If you’re proposing something radical, the way that the game has played out to date in the affected countries has to count as evidence. If there was any sub-group that was harmed economically by radically expanded immigration there would be no meaningful help provided in the US, especially in the South. And if the impacted populations were primarily ethnic minorities the odds of assistance would be even lower.

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Chris Bertram 08.06.13 at 4:37 pm

@JWM What you’re doing is conceding the premise that native workers are harmed, and then trying to find some reason to favor unrestricted immigration anyway.

No I’m not (or I’m not intending to, anyway). I’m saying to anti-immigration person who concedes the aggregate benefit point but then makes the distributive move, that if there were such harm, we could fix it. I’m not conceding that native workers are in fact harmed.

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Mao Cheng Ji 08.06.13 at 4:41 pm

“About $700/mo, reliably, to the immigrant? Compared to either nothing, or promises?”

No. This is a hypothetical universe, in which the Moldavians are allowed to immigrate to the UK, and the ‘gains’ of their turning from engineers to toilet cleaners are re-distributed.

Since this is a hypothetical universe, it has to be compared to other hypothetical universes. And if this one appeals to you most, then yes, that’s the way to go. I don’t know why it would, though.

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Mitch Guthman 08.06.13 at 4:49 pm

Alex @ 102,

Yes, there is a gain to the immigrant but at a cost to all working class people in the UK, whose ability to obtain higher wages is effectively eliminated because of management’s ability to import vast numbers of people from dysfunctional, very low wage, zero governmental services societies who are understandably happy to work for practically nothing because it represents a huge gain for the immigrant. We are often told about the terrible labor shortages in Western countries but, really, there is no shortage of workers. Merely a shortage of workers willing to accept the wages that management choses to assign to certain jobs.

But there is clearly a cost associated with allowing businesses to import huge pools of largely unskilled immigrants to reduce their wage bills. In the short term, the costs are borne by displaced workers and increased taxes on the middle classes to pay for social benefits for the losers and for the immigrants whose income, although much greater in absolute terms, isn’t quite high enough for them to survive in a society with higher costs of living. The other cost is one that I believe to be baked into neoliberalism, namely, that the savings and gains from lower wages ultimately makes for dysfunctional “winner takes all” societies similar to those that these economic migrants are fleeing.

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Enzo Rossi 08.06.13 at 4:58 pm

Argument makes sense to me, provided that it’s OK to rule out cosmopolitanism from the get go — the migrants are likely to be more disadvantaged than the natives whose jobs they take, anyway.

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JW Mason 08.06.13 at 5:26 pm

I’m saying to anti-immigration person who concedes the aggregate benefit point but then makes the distributive move, that if there were such harm, we could fix it.

And I’m telling you, don’t say that.

First of all, it’s not true on the merits — in conditions of high unemployment and constrained demand, the losses may outweigh the gains, so compensation is impossible. Even when compensation is possible in principle, it my be too costly to carry out in practice; or it may be unachievable politically, given that “we” are not actually running the state.

“Assume a benevolent technocracy” is just not a move you want to make, even arguendo.

Once you’ve conceded the general point that dismantling protective labor-market institutions is ok as long as we can imagine some after-the-fact redistributive fix — job training, what have you — you really have no grounds to object when the identical argument gets made for everything else on the neoliberal wishlist.

But I’m repeating myself, so we should probably agree to disagree on this and move on.

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LFC 08.06.13 at 5:27 pm

from the OP

Now an objection to this might be that, given a lack of confidence that political leaders will actually introduce such redistributive measures …, it is rational for indigenous workers and their political representatives to lobby for tighter labour protectionism via immigration controls. But given the obvious downsides to that second-best strategy, particularly in its divisiveness and its fostering of xenophobia and racism, it seems clear that the left should prefer to take the aggregate benefits and redistribute them.

Vanya @88

Do tight immigration controls really foster “xenophobia and racism”? The US was a far more xenophobic and racist society prior to the 1920s than it was in the 1950s, after decades of immigration restriction. European society is hardly becoming less xenophobic and racist as immigration increases.

Well, one cd argue that tighter immigration restrictions in effect reward xenophobia and in that sense “foster” it. Though it might be a close question whether xenophobia wd be more widespread with unrestricted or with restricted immigration. In a society w a large immigrant population already there, tight and effectively implemented immigration restrictions wd presumably have the effect of turning xenophobic sentiment completely inward, ie directed squarely to the “foreign” population already in the country. Assimilation etc might eventually end that but wd take some time. I’m not that familiar w the details of the UK situation though.

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Mitch Guthman 08.06.13 at 5:54 pm

@ Chris Bertram,

If one limits the debate to saying that people should have the right to live where they want because it makes you feel better about yourself and, besides, telling people they can’t come and live in the West where their lives will be much better feels icky, so we shouldn’t do it, then, yes, what you say is irrefutable. It is irrefutable because it is based on your personal sensibilities. In other words, if you exclude from the debate any discussion of the potential adverse consequences of your musings about economic migration, what remains is a rather pointless discussion of whether what feels right to you personally is what feels right to you personally; which obviously it does. So case closed.

Similarly, if we limit ourselves to discussing whether it is generally good for businesses to be able to lower their wage bills without any corresponding discussion of the possible costs to others or to society as a whole, then, yes, unrestricted freedom of economic migration seems like a good idea. Again, if the discussion of the costs and who will bear them is limited to your breezy dismissal that naturally there will be some losers but undoubtedly it will all work out for the best especially since the (mainly) academics who run and read this blog won’t be among the losers, then what you say can’t be refuted but then neither can it be debated. So what’s the point?

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PGD 08.06.13 at 5:56 pm

The deep and fundamental problem with this kind of argument for open migration is that it implicitly questions the legitimacy of the nation-state, which is the only practical political community for achieving justice we have right now. Peter T @ 80 made this point better than I can, so I will refer people up there. But seeing the world as disconnected equal individuals whose fortunes are summed up through a utilitarian calculus is deeply anti-political. Politics revolves around communities, communities to a significant degree define themselves by their boundaries, and if you want to posit a universal global community where boundaries are meaningless you need to start by talking about how we can achieve just governance institutions for such a community.

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Norwegian Guy 08.06.13 at 7:16 pm

Even if we assume that immigration brings aggregate gains, and that the economic well-being of the national population is the only goal of immigration policy, it does not follow that open borders will maximize economic efficiency and prosperity for any particular country. Rather, you would pick and choose among immigrants, probably trying to attract as many high-skilled immigrants as possible, while rejecting asylum seekers, family reunification etc. from countries where people are likely to be less productive. This is the kind of immigration policy that many on the right wing prefer, but that even I – an odd socialist with fairly restrictive view on immigration – don’t find too appealing.

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Chris Bertram 08.06.13 at 7:23 pm

Really hard to know how to respond to commenters who repeatedly assert things like

The deep and fundamental problem with this kind of argument for open migration is that it implicitly questions the legitimacy of the nation-state

See also Mitch, Peter T @80

In the OP I deliberately assumed (for the sake of argument) the legitimacy of the nation state AND limited the scope of the consequentialist calculus to citizens. Do you have a problem with basic literacy and comprehension?

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novakant 08.06.13 at 7:33 pm

#112

Just to spice things up a bit, since the “immigration is bad” crowd is coming out of the woodwork in force (nevermind the lack of any reliable data)

I do explicitly question the legitimacy of the nation state – it’s historically rather recent development and on its way out again – I’ll happily have it replaced with the EU or similar superstructures.

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Chris Bertram 08.06.13 at 7:34 pm

@JWM Once you’ve conceded the general point that dismantling protective labor-market institutions is ok as long as we can imagine some after-the-fact redistributive fix

But I don’t concede that point as an all things considered conclusion. I concede that IF (1) there are economic gains from some reform that come with losers and IF (2) there exists a mechanism for compensating those losers in economic terms, THEN there would be a narrowly economic argument for doing so. Since narrow economics isn’t all that’s relevant, the concession is a highly circumscribed one.

It isn’t clear to me that you actually disagree with me there.

You clearly deny the truth of (2) in the present case, but denying the truth of (2) is consistent with accepting the truth of the conditional. One reason I wrote the OP was to find out whether people did deny something like (2) – and you provided a helpful link to Dean Baker on the subject, for which I’m grateful.

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Mao Cheng Ji 08.06.13 at 8:14 pm

Novakant: “I do explicitly question the legitimacy of the nation state – it’s historically rather recent development and on its way out again – I’ll happily have it replaced with the EU or similar superstructures.”

But the EU is merely a coalition of nation-states. You, an American, cannot work or do business here, legally. You can visit as a tourist, stay for 3 months, and then you have to go back. Anything else, you need a visa. If you question the legitimacy of the nation state, you’re questioning the EU as well.

Anyway:
If you are rich, you can do pretty much anything you want.
If you are poor, you’d be shit outta luck if not for your nation-state (or your religious institutions, if you belong. But that’s been going away).

Once you destroy the nation states – that’s it, Neoliberal Paradise! What’s in your bank account is what you are, and nothing else.

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Mitch Guthman 08.06.13 at 11:25 pm

@ Chris Bertram,

With respect, I really can’t believe that the whole point of the post was to find out whether there was anybody who thought that employers who saved money by paying their employees much less in wages would be willing to give those savings back to their workers by paying higher taxes equivalent to the supposed gains and then having the money given to the workers. From the perspective of businesses, that obviously defeats the whole point of allowing in large numbers of economic migrants as a mechanism for driving wages down and keeping them down so that the middle class will live like peasants and the poor will live like animals.

More to the point, that was the Faustian “bargain” Western countries made in the era after World War II and unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere since about 1972, you can see that while workers and the middle classes have accepted stagnating and even declining wage income for the past several decades, businesses haven’t been even remotely interested in holding up their end and it’s been totally impossible to force them short of bloody revolution.

119

lupita 08.07.13 at 12:48 am

The undocumented population from Mexico (half of all Mexican immigrants to the US) has been decreasing by half a million per year since 2009 and net migration from Mexico (this includes legal residents and US citizens) turned negative last year.

Despite this, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the US will receive a million immigrants per year (half of which will be Mexican, following past trends) and, if immigration reform passes, that figure will go up to two million. That means one million Mexican immigrants per year. Despite the fertility rate being only marginally higher in Mexico than in the US (2.2 vs. 2.1) and Mexico’s population growth is 1.4 million per year, the US expects one million to emigrate to the US starting next year.

My respectable political counterargument for liberalizing immigration policy is that of the king when the little prince asked him to order the sun to set: the conditions are not favorable.

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Chris Bertram 08.07.13 at 7:48 am

@Mitch – with all the respect due to you … I wrote the post to explore a specific argument and to canvas objections to it (which some commenters usefully supplied). I didn’t write it to provide a platform for you to voice your general feelings about immigration. If you can’t stay on topic, go somewhere else.

121

reason 08.07.13 at 9:52 am

I’m sort of against these sort of discussions because they always start from equilibrium models and ignore rates of change. Rates of change matter. Surely there is (or should be) an argument about capital intensity and how a large rate of increase of population will reduce it (here I particularly mean housing and infrastructure). Economic measures always arrogate a completeness that is quite fallacious (i.e. GDP is a part of economic welfare, the rate of GDP growth overstates the rate of welfare growth).

But ultimately, isn’t the argument for unlimited for unlimited immigration, exactly the same argument as the argument for unlimited population growth? If we think the second is unsustainable, mustn’t we also think the first is?

122

reason 08.07.13 at 9:56 am

P.S. I think that a citizen’s basic income (with a long qualification period) could make the issue irrelevant – it could well result in a more liberal immigration law and less immigration.

123

agm 08.07.13 at 10:06 am

“I think that’s pretty common. E.g. I do think that I’m ethically obligated to care about other people’s kids’ well-being” – adam.smith @ 81

I dare say, this is not a principle accepted by everyone, even in the West, even by those who accept the injunction to do unto others as we would have them do to us. This altruism is not something the species evolved to do, no matter what feel-good motives an academic thinks we should adhere to.

@ CB, 116:
“But I don’t concede that point as an all things considered conclusion. I concede that IF (1) there are economic gains from some reform that come with losers and IF (2) there exists a mechanism for compensating those losers in economic terms, THEN …”

Full stop. Right there. Number 2 is what does not exist, even in principle. Groups of humans do not act that way.

For example, the US experience was that retraining on offer did not even things up for people affected by NAFTA was not very successful. Redistribution simply is not the panacea promised, because in reality you cannot make someone whole with just money if you take away their livelihood or create conditions for it to be taken away by someone who does not hold your ideals and holds more power than the person impacted.

You can construct arguments as if this is the case, but people with on-the-ground experience will generally dig in their heels if they consider reality a useful adjunct to arguing a topic likely to impact them, or their friends and loved ones. Therefore people who are not attempting to rule out reality refuse to consider this arguments based on it that *invariably* end up with the less well off getting screwed.

124

Alex 08.07.13 at 10:07 am

106: No. This is a hypothetical universe, in which the Moldavians are allowed to immigrate to the UK, and the ‘gains’ of their turning from engineers to toilet cleaners are re-distributed.

Since this is a hypothetical universe, it has to be compared to other hypothetical universes. And if this one appeals to you most, then yes, that’s the way to go. I don’t know why it would, though.

This is just a deliberately bizarre hypothesis, then. Presumably, if the entire gain to the immigrant was to be redistributed, there would be no point migrating.

125

Mao Cheng Ji 08.07.13 at 10:22 am

Alex, the total economic gains are supposed to be redistributed; did you read the post?

If only the immigrant’s monetary gains matter, then perhaps it would be easier if the immigrant simply mugged you, repeatedly, on your every payday. And if you’re alright with that (on account of the immigrant gaining), I don’t think anyone would object.

126

Chris Bertram 08.07.13 at 10:44 am

@agm Redistribution simply is not the panacea promised, because in reality you cannot make someone whole with just money

Me, in the very paragraph you quoted from:

Since narrow economics isn’t all that’s relevant, the concession is a highly circumscribed one.

127

Alex 08.07.13 at 11:50 am

125: Yes, yes, I did. Did you? I don’t think for a moment Chris means “tax away the difference between what the immigrant would hypothetically earn at home and their wages and then do summat with it”. That, I think, is a deliberately silly reading of his post.

128

bianca steele 08.07.13 at 1:48 pm

, it seems clear that the left should prefer to take the aggregate benefits and redistribute them

Once everything’s granted up to this point, I don’t see the purpose of redistributing what benefits can be gotten for that purpose at all. You’ve got your “good in the aggregate.” If you can persuade the economic losers to put up with their loss for the benefit of all, why are they expecting redistribution? At most, it’s gravy.

129

Joe Barnes 08.07.13 at 2:11 pm

Norwegian Boy makes an important argument: if the object is to create a bigger GDP, then it makes perfect sense to stress high-skilled workers and professionals in immigration policy. Indeed, it suggests that countries which such individuals find desirable (the United States or the United Kingdom, for instance) might usefully implement — or expand — systems to auction work or even permanent residence visas. Such as system would also reduce the urgency of compensating “losers,” as the latter would largely represent relatively high-income individuals.

130

MPAVictoria 08.07.13 at 2:43 pm

Even if we accept the fact that more open immigration brings more benefits than pain it matters how those benefits/pain are concentrated or spread out and this is what neoliberals fail to understand.

If ten people feel slightly healthier but one person is fatally shot the net health of the group may have improved but that hardly matters to the dead guy.

131

Chris Bertram 08.07.13 at 2:48 pm

@MPAV, did you actually read the first two sentences of the OP?

132

MPAVictoria 08.07.13 at 3:42 pm

Sorry Chris. I did not express myself clearly. What I am trying to say is that I doubt it is even possible for the government to fix the negative consequences. Money or new training won’t do it in many cases.

133

adam.smith 08.07.13 at 3:58 pm

@agm 123 – while it’s not really relevant here (ethical considerations don’t have to follow evolution necessarily), it’s also nonsense. Research on altruism across species suggests that humans have indeed involved to pretty high degrees of altruism.

@Chris – so in the narrow sense your argument is true. If you have two states of the world and the total amount of income available in equilibrium B is larger than in A, and you assume a benevolent dictator who can redistribute income at will, then B is pareto better than A. You can write this up mathematically (as economists would) and actually prove it. (you can either include or assume away the costs of redistribution).

I think the reaction you’re seeing from many people is an objection less against the “strongly circumscribed” argument than against the style of argument. I think SusanC @90 has the best summary of this objection – you’re basically arguing the way Milton Friedman would argue and I’m very uncomfortable to endorse such arguments, even where I agree with their conclusion (as I do here).

134

adam.smith 08.07.13 at 4:13 pm

though – and perhaps undercutting myself in the last point. What I take MPAV to mean is that you can’t necessarily compensate for everything.
So if you assume (grumble) that some people lose their job to immigrants and remain unemployed, then compensating them for their lost income may not be enough to compensate them for their loss in “utility,” “happiness” or whatever you want to call it (if you run regressions on subjective happiness, unemployment actually has a substantially large effect, even when you’re controlling for income levels, so there’s some support for this).

135

Chris Bertram 08.07.13 at 6:34 pm

Asher, having reviewed your previous contributions to CT, I think I’d better ban you. I strongly suspect you are Seth Edenbaum, but if you aren’t you’re banned anyway.

[Others who responded to “Asher”, I’ve deleted your posts too, because they don’t make sense in the absence of the posts they are replies to.]

136

MPAVictoria 08.07.13 at 7:28 pm

“What I take MPAV to mean is that you can’t necessarily compensate for everything.”

Thank you yes. This is what I was trying to say.

/I wish I was a better writer.

137

js. 08.07.13 at 8:07 pm

But at least in the US, the pro-redistribution group is an almost complete subset of the pro-immigration group (i.e. there is hardly anyone in the US who is for redistribution but anti-immigration).

Slightly tangential and rather late, but I was struck by the above comment of adam.smith’s (@32 I think). This strikes me as eminently untrue (and unfortunate). I’d think this thread itself presents some counter-evidence. Unfortunately, I can’t point to any data off-hand, but I was curious is someone else could.

I’m raising this because I think the topic/questions CB is raising are indeed very much relevant in the US context, and notwithstanding the objections raised by adam.smith, JWM, etc., which I find more or less compelling.

138

Ronan(rf) 08.07.13 at 8:53 pm

js

I dont know if this speaks to your question, but this post was on the monkey cage yesterday (with attached paper)

http://themonkeycage.org/2013/08/06/how-to-explain-the-seeming-gap-between-public-opinion-and-immigration-reforms-in-congress/

139

Mao Cheng Ji 08.07.13 at 8:55 pm

“the above comment of adam.smith’s (@32 I think). This strikes me as eminently untrue (and unfortunate).”

He seems to be exactly right, though. The US political theater is comprised of the Republican and Democratic parties. Wooing the Republicans to join the pro-immigration camp by promising higher taxes on the rich sounds like a patently absurd proposition. It may be unfortunate, but how is it untrue?

140

js. 08.07.13 at 9:48 pm

The US political theater is comprised of the Republican and Democratic parties.

I don’t know what you mean by “US political theater”, but if it means something like “voting population”, it’s not really true. Even if it were true though, the point is that there seem to be significant Democratic constituencies that are pro-egalitarian (“redistributive”) policies but indifferent at best, and often hostile, to pro-immigration policies. So your “absurd proposition” doesn’t come into it. (Actually, while your proposed proposition is indeed absurd, the presence of pro-immigrant constituencies within the Republican party is an actually existing part of the political landscape in the US.)

While I haven’t read the paper Ronan links to (for which, thanks—looks good), the following would seem to support my original sense:

According to Gallup polls, less than a quarter of the American public supports expansive immigration policies, while more than three quarters of people prefer the status quo or more restrictive policies.

141

Daniel 08.07.13 at 10:11 pm

If you people get in charge the environment hasn’t got a chance. You don’t feel motivated enough to pay even lip service to environmental concerns.

142

Daniel 08.07.13 at 11:01 pm

If immigration to the West is such a valuable and, for the present at least, scarce commodity why shouldn’t immigration to the West be reserved for those who are most impoverished, desperate, disadvantaged? Before the West admits a single another Ph.D, MD, C++ developer shouldn’t we exhaust the pool of truly needy from Haiti and the Ganges delta, for instance? Yeah, you can’t make $1 million bonus as a quant trader in Bombay but you can still maintain a decent living, but for the most impoverished latrine cleaner in Bangladesh a move to working for the MTA in New York city would be world changing. The western left would never go for this; they care about their affiliates in the third world too much.

143

Magpie 08.08.13 at 7:41 am

In addition to the comments made by Metatone (#3), I’d point that in general, judging by my experience in Australia, I don’t see the political caste as genuinely interested in solving the problem, even when there are technical solutions.

The “conservative, centre-right, libertarian” party in Australia (mainly the ironically named Liberal Party of Australia), for instance, are the main advocates of worker immigration, while at the same time being dead set against asylum seekers.

With one hand they claim the high moral ground, with the other they get the local xenophobic vote. The best of both worlds! They have no incentive to change the situation.

And the Australian Labor Party don’t do much better: anything other than absolute acceptance of unlimited immigration would expose them to the charge of racism (apart from displeasing their corporate contributors); and they, after all, are as fiscally conservatives as the “Liberals”, how could they justify fiscal spending in any kind of compensation?

To do something about immigration is a risky proposition for them and I doubt they are much into taking risks.

144

adam.smith 08.08.13 at 4:42 pm

yeah, I meant among political decision makers, not the general population. While there is indeed a pro-immigration wing in the GOP, there is no anti-immigration wing left in the Democratic party (especially as labor unions have come around on the issue quite forcefully), so in terms of meaningful coalitions, exactly what Mao says @139

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