Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why immigration reform is both so hard and yet so beneficial ...

... in one chart, courtesy of Juan Cole.

Only the blue and possibly the yellow wedges of that pie derive from places that the contemporary U.S. majority thinks of as the source of the North American culture.

That's changing, but this takes time. As has been true since Europeans invaded this continent, the future and dynamism of this country depends on immigration.

Bloomberg View, an organ of business news, is willing to let Ezra Klein explain this:

... consider a few facts about immigrants in the American economy: About a tenth of the U.S. population is foreign-born. More than a quarter of U.S. technology and engineering businesses started from 1995 to 2005 had a foreign-born owner. In Silicon Valley, half of all tech startups had a foreign-born founder.

Immigrants begin businesses and file patents at a much higher rate than their native-born counterparts, and while there are disputes about the effect immigrants have on the wages of low-income Americans, there’s little dispute about their effect on wages overall: They lift them.

The economic case for immigration is best made by way of analogy. Everyone agrees that aging economies with low birth rates are in trouble; this, for example, is a thoroughly conventional view of Japan. It’s even conventional wisdom about the U.S. The retirement of the baby boomers is correctly understood as an economic challenge. The ratio of working Americans to retirees will fall from 5-to-1 today to 3-to-1 in 2050. Fewer workers and more retirees is tough on any economy.

There’s nothing controversial about that analysis. But if that’s not controversial, then immigration shouldn’t be, either. Immigration is essentially the importation of new workers. It’s akin to raising the birth rate, only easier, because most of the newcomers are old enough to work. And because living in the U.S. is considered such a blessing that even very skilled, very industrious workers are willing to leave their home countries and come to ours, the U.S. has an unusual amount to gain from immigration. When it comes to the global draft for talent, we almost always get the first-round picks -- at least, if we want them, and if we make it relatively easy for them to come here.

... There are few free lunches in public policy. But taking advantage of our unique position as a country where the world’s best, brightest and hardest-working desperately want to live is surely one. In the end, economies aren’t mainly about budgets and tax codes, though Congress occasionally pretends otherwise. They’re about workers and business owners. Immigration reform is a way to get more of both.

Klein concedes that new immigrant workers may, sometimes, compete with native workers who are already struggling. I'm not one to deny that; I see it in construction, in yard work, in the hotel industry -- regardless of the broad statistical picture. There are citizens who have a harder time because someone else has come along to do the dirty work. No question about that.

But it's not usually these citizens who are leading the charge against the newcomers. It is too often those of us who simply find immigrants too strange and take that as threatening. Those new people are a challenge. They won't look like us; even once they learn English (and they do, fast!) they won't speak like us; they bring different foods and different sports. But this new United States that is coming into being including all these cultural strands is our best future. Hiding our heads accomplishes nothing. We're in for yet another nasty season of backlash and haggling as immigration reform bumps along in Congress. Real, already present, neighbors are hurt by our reluctance to move ahead on this.

But -- despite the dreams of some of the white Republican base -- there's no going back. Those "foreign born" are part of our future.

1 comment:

Ken Hoop said...

Nothing inevitable about what you describe as so. But those elements of the white Republican base you mention; too many of them trust in the deracinated "white" plutocrats to do their bidding. The ones who outsource their future away and Chamber of Commerce the cheap labor in. If this continues, surely they and their kids will pay the price.

Their analogues will be the self-deceived tacit liberal majority working-middle class element who trust the process you describe to create economic dynamism rather than national splintering.

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