The Weekly Standard On We Wanted Workers

The Weekly Standard just published Peter Hansen’s careful review of We Wanted Workers. Hansen did a great job, neatly capturing the essence of what my book is about. My favorite part:

it’s hard to imagine a more suitable book if you’re genuinely seeking information about what may well be today’s most politically charged issue.

Hansen also grasped the significance of the “elementary error” I point out in David Card’s Mariel study. Believe it or not, Card actually used post-1980 (that is, post-Mariel) data to create the set of placebo cities that Miami should be compared to. (The quote from the Card article describing what he actually did appears at the end of this post). As I write in my book,

This elementary error is akin to a medical researcher choosing the placebo by looking for patients who were not injected with a harmful dosage of an experimental drug but somehow got sick anyway.

This is one of those things that is universally swept under the rug when describing Card’s work. Just imagine the reaction to a young economist (or medical researcher) today if he/she published a paper where the placebo group was deliberately chosen to resemble the post-treatment outcomes of the treated group!

This blog has not been active for a few weeks. It’s been very hectic, as I’ve been downsizing and moving. We sold our big old house in Lexington and moved to a condo in Cambridge within walking distance of my office. Valuable advice for the young ones. Throw out all that junk now before it starts to accumulate and overwhelm. It’s way too much work to take care of it when you are trying to downsize.

Here is Card’s paper; the quote comes from page 249, and I added the emphasis.

For comparative purposes, I have assembled similar data…in four other cities: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston, and Tampa-St. Petersburg. These four cities were selected both because they had relatively large populations of blacks and Hispanics and because they exhibited a pattern of economic growth similar to that in Miami over the late 1970s and early 1980s. A comparison of employment growth rates…suggests that economic conditions were very similar in Miami and the average of the four comparison cities between 1976 and 1984.

Author: George Borjas

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