The Politico 50

Politico publishes an annual list of the 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics,” and I made this year’s list at #17. And why did I get chosen? “For telling it like it really is on immigration.

A few weeks ago, Politico asked me if I could excerpt some of the themes from my new book, We Wanted Workers, framing the discussion in terms of the immigration debate in the presidential campaign. Here is the excerpt they also published today. The last few paragraphs capture the essence of the policy argument:

We’re worrying about the wrong things, with policy fights focused on how many and which immigrants to accept, and not enough on how to mitigate the harm they create along the way.

[We] cannot ignore the reality that immigration has made some natives poorer. A policy that keeps them in mind might tax the agricultural and service companies that benefit so much from low-skilled immigrants, and use the money to compensate low-skilled Americans for their losses and to help them transition to new jobs and occupations. Similarly, Bill Gates claims that Microsoft creates four new jobs for every H-1B visa granted; if true, firms like Microsoft should be willing to pay many thousands of dollars for each of those coveted visas. Those funds could be used to compensate and retrain the affected natives in the high-tech industry.

But let’s not be naive…To even partially compensate those Americans who lose from the current policy would require massive new government programs to supervise a massive wealth redistribution totaling tens of billions of dollars. The employers that profit from the way things are won’t go along with these transfers without an epic political struggle. And many of the libertarians who obsessively advocate for open borders will surely balk at such a huge expansion of government. To make this work, Clinton and her supporters will have to acknowledge that our current immigration policy has indeed left some Americans behind. And Trump and his supporters will have to acknowledge that a well-designed immigration plan can be beneficial. All this is probably not going to happen. But only then can we have a real debate over immigration policy.

And I even have a catchy name for the legislation. How does “No Native Left Behind” sound?

Author: George Borjas

I am a Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.