Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Debating the Economics of Immigration

It seems that there is a debate happening over at National Review.  I'll give you a couple of links, but you're welcome to Google it yourself and draw your own conclusions.  I'm no economist, but I studied economics in both the undergraduate and graduate school.  It's a hard science (Economics is where I learned calculus), but it has soft science and policy implications at all levels of government.

Economics seems intuitive, but it's not.  And the debate over immigration is one that has both economic and social policy implications.  Especially when a large majority of those immigrants can't speak the language, or don't have hard skills.  What do we do with the po'folks?  But in a larger sense, is anyone now in this country truly poor?  That's an economic question that is hard to answer, simply because we don't have a true standard by which to judge policy.  From one of the links above:
Incidentally, if we’re going to use true purchasing power as our standard, then can we all quit grinding about income stagnation? The real-world purchasing power of a bottom-third American in 2015 is so radically different from that of a bottom-third American in 1975 that we don’t even have a really good way to express it economically. What kind of computer or mobile phone did the median American have in 1980? What was his car like, or his house?
Good questions, both.  Computers and cell phones were not widely available in 1980.  Many of us had never heard of them, and the price for the very early models was prohibitive at median income levels.  Without a meaningful basis of measurement, we have no basis for comparison, so it's important not only to understand the question, but to craft the question in such a way that it can be answered meaningfully.  Sometimes, it's best to get back to the basics.
On the other hand, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the past several years in poor and struggling parts of the country—Appalachia, Detroit, interior California, East St. Louis—and I have not once thought to myself: “You know what this place really needs? More poor people!” 
That's a great point, but Mr Williamson makes a better point in the following paragraph.
Call me parochial, but my economic model defines a poor society as a society that has lots of poor people in it.
Heh!  Indeed.  It's important to define the terms.  If you live in a house with central heat and air conditioning, and have a cell phone, you're head and shoulders over what I grew up with in a middle class neighborhood in the '60s and '70s.  I'm wondering if there are truly any poor folks in the US, and if so, how do we measure their poverty?

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