The WSJ Weighs In On Mariel

The WSJ weekend edition just published a long essay (here’s an ungated pdf version) on the academic debate sparked by my reappraisal of the Mariel evidence. Ben Leubsdorf, the WSJ reporter, has been working on this story for quite some time. He flew up to Boston back in March to have an extended conversation with me, so this is definitely not an off-the-cuff reaction to whatever happens to be the controversy de jour in this seemingly never-ending (and increasingly tiresome) tale. Ben obviously did his homework, digested all the relevant work, and talked to a lot of people. I think it’s a pretty good account of the state of the debate. It made me wonder yet again where things would be today if the question of whether wages respond to shifts in supply had not been so depressingly politicized.

One of my favorite solutions to this question comes from Paul Samuelson, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist whose Nobel citation noted that he had “done more than any other contemporary economist to raise the level of scientific analysis in economic theory.”

After 1965, laws were passed greatly liberalizing immigration. A flood of immigrants has been admitted since then . . . By keeping labor supply high, immigration policy tends to keep wages low.

………..I know it’s mid June, but April Fools! I tricked you by strategically changing a few words in what Samuelson said. Can one even imagine a world-renowned economist making such a statement in today’s political environment? What Samuelson actually wrote in his introductory economics textbook back in 1964 was:

After World War I, laws were passed severely limiting immigration. Only a trickle of immigrants has been admitted since then . . . By keeping labor supply down, immigration policy tends to keep wages high.

I’ve highlighted the words I changed in the quote. As Paul Samuelson noted long ago, and as the low-skill workforce in Miami learned back in 1980, the labor market is not immune to the laws of supply and demand.

Author: George Borjas

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