Riley, who is apparently about to publish a rah-rah immigration book, is not even above the silly smear that critics of immigration policy are "anti-immigrant", even though e.g. George Borjas and I are immigrants. Of course, supporters of the nation-breaking post-1965 immigration onslaught are really guilty of treason, so I guess we might as well respond by describing Riley as "anti-American".
I was amazed (well, not really, nothing surprises me with immigration enthusiasts) to see Riley commit this elementary economic error:
The common assumption is that a job filled by an immigrant is one less job for a native. But this reasoning is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how our labor markets operate. The U.S. job market is not a zero-sum game. The number of jobs is not static. It's fluid, which is how we want it to be. In 2006, 55 million U.S. workers either quit their jobs or were fired. Yet 57 million people were hired over the same period. In a typical year, a third of our workforce turns over.Even if this were true—and it omits the cross-subsidies that Milton Friedman acknowledged made mass immigration impossible in a welfare state - it ignores the critical point that, while Americans in aggregate may be "better off", the individual Americans directly competing with immigrants may very well be worse off. Immigration causes a redistribution of income within the native-born community, basically from labor to capital. And it's not small.
Immigrants help keep our labor markets flexible. And flexible labor markets — the kind that minimize the costs to a business of hiring and firing employees — enable workers and employers alike to find the employment situation that suits them best. Flexible labor markets make it easier for an employee who doesn't like his job to find another position somewhere else. And flexible labor markets make it more likely that an employer will expand his workforce or take a chance on a less experienced job-seeker.
A better fit between employers and employees increases productivity and makes markets more responsive to consumer demand. In the end, employers, workers and consumers are all better off.
The really amazing (but see above) thing about this is that the point was made, not just by me in Alien Nation thirteen years ago, but by the Wall Street Journal Edit Page's late favorite immigration enthusiast economist Julian Simon (he was actually a marketing specialist but he was willing to fake it) in his Economic Consequences Of Immigration back in 1990.
In other words, this riposte has been around for eighteen years, but Riley (or, let's hope, his editors on the Edit Page) still haven't heard of it.
American mmigration enthusiasm is a complex thing, very often motivated by unspoken ethnic insecurities. But one major factor, alas, is sheer stupidity.
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