Brexit, Immigration, and the Experts

A lot of commentators seem to be singling out immigration as a root cause of the dissatisfaction that led the British people to vote to leave the European Union. Here’s Reihan Salam in Slate:

Ever since the 1960s, when large-scale Commonwealth immigration sparked intense controversy, the Conservatives have been seen as the more anti-immigration party. And during the Blair years, Conservatives struggled to shake their image as narrow-minded bigots…In more recent years, however, the challenges presented by mass European immigration complicated this neat picture of the prejudiced Conservative…Once the less-skilled immigrants at the heart of the immigration debate were Poles and Bulgarians rather than blacks and South Asians, one could more credibly argue that anti-immigration sentiment was driven by concerns about the fiscal and environmental impacts of immigration, not a blind hatred of outsiders.

Donald Trump has weighed in as well:

I think a lot of it has to do with immigration…[The British people] got tired of seeing stupid decisions, just like the American people are tired of seeing stupid decisions…the border where people just flow across the border like Swiss cheese…I really do see a parallel between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening here. People want to see borders. They don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country that they don’t know who they are and where they come from.

And here’s David Frum in the Atlantic:

Is it possible that leaders and elites had it all wrong? If they’re to save the open global economy, maybe they need to protect their populations better against globalization’s most unwelcome consequences—of which mass migration is the very least welcome of them all?

Continue reading “Brexit, Immigration, and the Experts”

On Brexit

There’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said. But Larry Summers makes a point that touches on the themes in We Wanted Workers, so I wanted to highlight the point:

The political challenge in many countries going forward is to develop a “responsible nationalism”.  It is clear that there is a hunger on the part of electorates, if not the Davos set within countries, for approaches to policy that privilege local interests and local people over more cosmopolitan concerns…We now know that neither denying the hunger, or explaining that it is based on fallacy is a viable strategy.

As I put it in the title to the concluding chapter of my book, policy makers face a very simple question: “Who are you rooting for?”

The British people had a choice, a choice put to them in a very stark fashion by the long list of “expert” doomsayers who supported Remain (and who obviously benefited from the way things were yesterday). The more I thought about the arguments made by the experts, the more I felt that a typical voter’s choice could be summarized by:

Give me liberty…or give me a 1.2% higher per-capita GDP.

The British people chose wisely.

Interview in Dagens Nyheter

A few weeks ago,  journalists from the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter visited my office at Harvard to conduct a long interview. The newspaper has just published the news story. It’s in Swedish, so I’m clueless about its contents. But the graphics are really impressive.

In related news, it’s been difficult to blog much in recent days. I have a number of pressing deadlines–papers that need to be written in the next two months–and am doing quite a bit of traveling. I spent all of last week in Europe, giving a lecture in Madrid and participating in a refugee-related conference in Milan. In fact, I will be returning to Europe again next month and in June as well. As the political earthquake that shook Austria over the weekend suggests, we have not yet reached the new equilibrium implied by the pursuit of Merkel-type immigration policies.


Glenn and I

Glenn Loury and I talked about immigration last week as part of his Bloggingheads series, with much of the discussion focusing on the themes emphasized in my forthcoming book, We Wanted Workers. Glenn had read the book, and it truly made my day (heck, no, it made my month) when he told me it was “very impressive.” The discussion touches on many interesting points, both in terms of immigration research and immigration policy.

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Here’s the link to the video. Unfortunately, I do not have a clue about how to embed the video in a WordPress blog.


Senate Testimony

I testified this morning before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest. It’s something I haven’t done in years, but I have to admit that it was fun. Here is a copy of my written testimony.

The Metro was out of service today and it was a beautiful spring morning. I figured that it wasn’t worth getting stuck in traffic so I decided to walk the three miles from the hotel to Capitol Hill. During the walk, I was trying to think of a way where I could impress on the people in that room how the labor market works.

And the idea came to me that instead of talking about an H-1B program that lets in 65,000 high-tech workers (workers that most people attending those hearings have little in common with), we should instead think about an A-1B program that lets in 65,000 attorneys. These attorneys would have passed some sort of certification exam prepared by the American Bar Association. The test could be very, very hard, but I bet that Kaplan-like test centers would magically spring up all over the world to teach the requisite skills to would-be lawyers and that many potential lawyers would quickly join the queue.

What do you think would happen to the labor market for attorneys in the US? One doesn’t need professional training in economics to realize that attorneys would face an even harder time getting jobs. And that law firms and potential consumers would benefit because we could all hire legal services at much cheaper rates. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to hire a tax attorney to do our taxes next month at cut-rate prices?

As I was flying back to Boston, it occurred to me that this is not such a crazy proposal after all. In fact, why not attach the proposal to create an A-1B program every time someone introduces legislation to increase the H-1B cap? I would love to hear the reactions from the usual suspects–e.g., the American Immigration Lawyers Association–to the A-1B program. Would it shock anyone if this was the first “more immigrants, please” proposal that they would reject outright? Maybe then we could have a real debate about the costs and benefits of the H-1B program.

UPDATE: Minutes after I put up the post, I learned from a friend that Ted Cruz had a campaign ad about what the immigration debate would look like if the newcomers were lawyers, bankers, etc. Here it is:

I really do think it would be a lot of fun to follow the debate if this type of proposal was inserted into every single bill that proposed expanding a particular type of immigration. I would love to watch the logical contortions required to explain why programmers are good, but lawyers are not.