Immigrants are People

Matthew Yglesias is reliably excellent (that is to say: he agrees with my preconceptions in an intelligent way) on immigration, but I thought this short post on low-wage immigrants contained a particularly useful insight.

A lot of people have twisted themselves into a position where this kind of result strikes them as contrarian or counterintuitive. But if you think about population dynamics in a non-immigration context you’ll see that this is the conventional wisdom. If a deadly virus killed five percent of the population of Chicago, incomes would fall not rise. Chicago isn’t populated by subsistence farmers imperiled by land scarcity. Its residents participate in a 21st century service economy where they benefit from complex complementarities and an elaborate division of labor. That’s why big cities are engines of opportunity. Adding people does as much or more to bolster those tendencies as to undermine earning power by increasing the total number of workers.

Indeed, you see this deal pretty much all the time, where people apply some kind of starkly different thought process to people A and B, where person A is almost exactly like person B, but person B is an immigrant.

I’m a software engineer.  Nobody has ever, in my entire life, told me that I should oppose initiatives to increase the number of American college graduates with a STEM degree, because they will imperil my wages.  But people tell me all the time that I should oppose H1B visas for immigrants who will compete for those same jobs.

People who crusade tirelessly for money and opportunities for American poor routinely seem to think that poor from other countries can go fuck themselves.  The only people who seem relatively consistent who are anti-immigration are the ones who are just obviously bigoted.

The truth is that we all have a constant tendency to define the world in terms of in-groups and out-groups, and to regard those in the out group as not just unworthy of good things, but an actual threat to us.  Even if the lines that we draw are utterly arbitrary.


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