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Noah Smith has called out Dean Baker for being anti-immigration, and Dean Baker has thoughtfully responded. Before I address the substance of the two claims here, I want to make a broader point.

Noah: Dean Baker is not anti-immigration. This guy is anti-immigration:

And, really, I’m not being pedantic here. While Noah Smith and Dean Baker certainly have disagreements about the practical effects and thus the desireability of different kinds and amounts of immigration, neither of them are anti-immigration. If the anti-immigration position in the United States were characterized by Dean Baker, who says this:

First of all, there is the immediate issue of what we do with the undocumented workers who are already here. I don’t see much ambiguity on this one; they should be allowed to normalize their status and become citizens. These people are here as a matter of government policy even if they are working in violation of the law.

And this:

The question is really how we structure immigration policy going forward. Noah argues the merits for having an open door for high-skilled immigrants. I am 100 percent for this policy, although I may draw the line in a somewhat different place than Noah. I absolutely want to see more foreign doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals in the United States.

We would be the most pro-immigration country in the world. This is especially weird because Smith ends his post by advocating for unity by embracing lots of high-skilled immigration, Baker agrees with Smith, and then Smith says he’s disappointed. Weird.

As for the substantive differences between them, though, I first want to respond to this from Dean:

Btw, we can structure this so the foreign countries benefit as well. It would be a relatively simple matter to impose a modest tax (e.g. 10 percent) on the earnings of foreign professionals for the first ten years or so they work in the U.S. This money could be repatriated to their home countries so that they could educate 2-3 doctors for every 1 that came to the United States. You don’t trust this to work? Well, the foreign countries get zero now for the doctors who are leaving, so we have a pretty low bar to beat.

This is probably unnecessary to the point of counterproductive. Voluntary remittance outflows from the United States are already anywhere from $51-$110 billion, and remittances are perhaps the best way to get money from the United States to home countries since they are precisely targeted by people with local knowledge in amounts and for purposes designed to maximally benefit the intended individuals. Presumably, allowing in many foreign "doctors, dentists, lawyers," etc, would lead to far greater voluntary outflows without instituting any new tax that would have to be administered and foreign aid that could prove difficult to target well.

As for Social Security, I think Baker is right, and as for urban agglomaration and productivity arguments, I think Smith is right, but I think Smith doesn’t realize that if he is right about urbanization then he’s wrong about Social Security, because if you can create more productive cities with the labor force you already have you don’t need to import workers to "fix" Social Security since the increased productivity will get you the same actuarial gains as a higher worker:retiree ratio.

I am surprised, though, that neither post uses the word "moral." I know they are both economists and therefore specializing in their comparative advantage in the arena of public debate, but the economic arguments (and economic language) is uniquely suited to explain the moral benefits of immigration, especially low-skilled immigration. If we allow millions of low-to-medium-skilled workers emigrate to the United States, their expected lifetime earnings will skyrocket and more than offset any expected wage losses from incumbent American workers – a massive potential Pareto improvement. Additionally, I think a major value shift we will see in coming decades is one where the long-standing assumption that the accident of your place of birth ought to be determinant of where you are allowed to live and work is increasingly questioned, and for good reason. If I wanted to live and work in Brussels or London, I don’t see why it’s completely obvious why the default position should be that I am prohibted from doing so and should have to work extremely hard to apply for permission, yet when I want to move from DC to San Francisco or Anchorage or Honolulu or Santa Fe or Austin or Miami or Minneapolis that I am free to do so. Obviously there are questions of practicality and sociopolitical sustainability (I think there should be a cap on net annual immigration to the United States – just a large one), but that would still mitigate in favor of a very different world than the one we inhabit.

In conclusion, I strongly suggest everyone go watch Like Crazy.


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