Edward Alden (of the Council of Foreign Relations) and I spent over an hour last month talking about We Wanted Workers. The conversation will air this Saturday, November 12, at 10 pm as part of the After Words series on C-SPAN 2. I don’t like watching myself on TV or hearing myself on the radio so I don’t really know how the conversation turned out, but I’ve been told it is “terrific.”
Ted Alden, by the way, is the author of Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy, a brand new book that addresses many of the same themes as We Wanted Workers. I strongly recommend Ted’s book. I found it to be very informative and insightful.
There’s a good review of We Wanted Workers in the print edition of National Review. This is my favorite part:
However much you think you know about immigration, you’ll learn something from this book. And buy a second copy for your congressman—he needs it even more than you do.
And as long as you are in the buying mood, by all means buy one for your best friend, your brother, your sister, and even your crazy uncle.
The globalists have for far too long ignored that globalization, whether due to an increase in imports or an increase in immigration, has inevitably harmed some people in the industrialized countries. Angus Deaton has written an important essay that emphasizes the problem with what he calls “cosmopolitan prioritarianism,” which he defines as “an ethical rule that says we should think of everyone in the world in the same way, no matter where they live.”
The globalization that has rescued so many in poor countries has harmed some people in rich countries…Like many in academia and in the development industry, I am among globalization’s greatest beneficiaries – those who are able to sell our services in markets that are larger and richer than our parents could have dreamed of.
Globalization is less splendid for those who not only don’t reap its benefits, but suffer from its impact. We have long known that less-educated and lower-income Americans, for example, have seen little economic gain for four decades, and that the bottom end of the US labor market can be a brutal environment.
Citizenship comes with a set of rights and responsibilities that we do not share with those in other countries…We can think about these rights and obligations as a kind of mutual insurance contract: We refuse to tolerate certain kinds of inequality for our fellow citizens, and each of us has a responsibility to help – and a right to expect help – in the face of collective threats…When citizens believe that the elite care more about those across the ocean than those across the train tracks, insurance has broken down, we divide into factions, and those who are left behind become angry and disillusioned with a politics that no longer serves them.
This is precisely one of the key themes in We Wanted Workers. My recent exchange in Reason Magazine with Shikha Dalmia addresses this very question. At the end of the exchange, I leave no doubt as to which side I am on:
Espousing any specific immigration policy is nothing but a declaration that group x is preferred to group y. It is easy to avoid clarifying who you are rooting for by trying to reframe the debate in terms of amorphous philosophical ideals about mobility rights and the like. But this is where we go our separate ways. When push comes to shove, I will side with policies that improve the well being of the American worker.
The New Yorker just published a very thoughtful review of We Wanted Workers. This is how the review introduces one of my key themes.
Instead of asking what we owe immigrants, he wants us to think more clearly about what we’re likely to get in return. Unlike Trump, he isn’t convinced that immigration is an existential threat to America, but he is not convinced, either, by politicians’ constant assurances that immigration is what makes America great. He believes that we should take up a question that is sometimes considered taboo: What if immigration isn’t good for us, after all?
The Wall Street Journal just published the first major review of my new book, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. The review presents a very interesting take on what the book is about and how it relates to the political debate over immigration. George Melloan says that the book gives:
a readable and detailed historical tour of America’s immigration debates and policies…Agree or disagree with his conclusions, the reader will encounter a level of seriousness that has been lacking in this campaign year.
And EJMR aficionados will find a little something to smile about towards the end of the review when Melloan touches on the thorny problem of what to do about the undocumented immigrants already in the United States:
Mr. Borjas ends his tour with a refreshing remark seldom heard from an economist. “Amazingly enough, sometimes inaction is the best action. And benign neglect of this sensitive issue is probably best as long as we take concurrent steps to ensure that we need not revisit this problem in the future with an even larger undocumented population.”
My new book, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative, was published today.
In case you need a little encouragement to read it, here are a few reactions from early readers:
Reihan Salam: “We Wanted Workers is essential to understanding America’s future. Drawing on decades of research, Borjas cuts through the myths and obfuscations plaguing our immigration debate. This is the most lucid, powerful work of social science I’ve ever read.”
Glenn Loury: “An invaluable addition to the literature on U.S. immigration policy. A model of lucid exposition, it delves deeply into the subtle complexities of a subject that has been rife with sloppy and wishful thinking. Borjas reviews a mountain of evidence in support of a forceful argument for the position that, while there are benefits, one needs also to be mindful of the considerable costs associated with the liberalization of immigration policies.”
Daniel Hamermesh: “Borjas, the world’s leading economic expert on immigration, has penned a nontechnical, nearly conversational book pointing out all the issues in immigration’s effects on an economy―particularly the American economy. The central message is ‘it depends’―impacts are positive or negative for different natives, different kinds of immigrants, and at different times.”
Christian Dustmann: “‘Wir riefen Arbeitskräfte, es kamen Menschen―We wanted workers, people came.’ Max Frisch’s comment on the economically motivated after-war migrations from Southern Europe and Turkey into Northern Europe lends this fascinating book its title, and points at the core of what distinguishes movement of people from movement of goods…This excellent book is also very personal, telling the story of the migrant George Borjas who arrives as a child refugee from Castro’s Cuba and the life’s work of the economist George Borjas, pointing at how personal experience has influenced highly acclaimed academic work. A captivating, insightful and easily accessible book that makes great reading for everyone interested in the subject.”
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?