Immigration does “grow the economy” and highly-skilled immigrants do contribute more in taxes than they receive in direct government services (education, healthcare, entitlements, etc.). It would be very difficult to find an economist who disagrees with the above statement. Yet, it is easy to find members of the media who use these facts to make the argument that the importation of tens of millions of low-skilled immigrants has grown the economy in a way that has benefited most Americans, and/or that there is an acute shortage of tech (or STEM) workers necessitating an increase in the number of guest workers the U.S. admits every year.
Using arguments that only someone either willfully blind to evidence or willfully committed to promoting falsehoods would proffer, immigration expansionists seek to demonstrate to the American people that what is real, really isn’t. The “explainers” at Vox have perfected journalistic trompe l’oeil in their apologias for immigration policies that harm American workers. The Vox line is that since only 97.8 percent of the increase in Gross Domestic Product attributable to immigration goes to immigrants themselves, with the remaining 2.2 percent going to those who employ immigrants, the current system is “slightly raising everyone else’s income.” Just how this is occurring when actual data show that real wages for the average American worker have not gone up in over 40 years is left to the readers to figure out for themselves.
A more sophisticated spin is provided by Noah Smith, an economist and frequent blogger, who recently took issue with an article written by David Frum in The Atlantic (well-worth the read), in which Frum points out some of the problems caused by massive low-skilled immigration. In his response, Smith correctly points out that legal immigration is much higher than illegal immigration but then makes the absurd statement that “illegal immigration is now close to zero,” a claim that even the federal government puts lie to. The commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that the 106 percent increase from last year in apprehensions of families and unaccompanied children trying to illegally enter the U.S. may be the “new normal.”
Ignoring inconvenient facts is a recurrent theme in Smith’s work, as his analysis of the economic effects of immigration demonstrates. He parrots the standard line that immigration raises the GDP, as if that tells us anything beyond the total size of the economy. Every dollar spent in the United States adds to the GDP, including government spending to support out of work Americans. The GDP is not a worthless metric, but it is a wholly inadequate measure of the health of our economy.
Smith then argues that because immigrants tend to earn more the longer they are in the United States, this is proof that immigration doesn’t put downward pressure on wages. The economic performance of immigrants can be an interesting study in and of itself, but it’s at best peripheral to a discussion of how newcomers affect the wages and livelihoods of those already in the country. And it tells us nothing about the income gap between native and foreign-born workers. Smith’s analysis is the same as saying a football team doubled its score in the second half while failing to mention it lost the game 21 to 6 -- or that the team's bus crashed on the way back to the hotel injuring its star quarterback.
Smith has written quite extensively on immigration-related topics, often with the same lack of acuity. He declared invalid the work of Harvard economist George Borjas because other economists designed “synthetic controls…to construct imaginary cities” which disproved Borjas’ findings that low-skilled immigration depressed wages in cities that actually existed. Smith also expressed disdain for those who want to limit foreign tech workers coming to the United States in order to protect Americans in the tech industry. He believes workers in those fields are earning too much. Smith’s seems to share former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s economic philosophy about how to reduce income inequality – “you don’t have to bring up the bottom if you bring the top down.”
With the presidential election year upon us and immigration being a hot topic, Smith will likely pop up frequently as a voice of “reason” in the immigration debate; and Vox writers will again explain to the American people why they know nothing about economics or immigration. But they won’t say anything we haven’t heard before. These are the same tired arguments that have been put forward for the past four decades.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Oct 11th 2017 @ 11:52am EDT