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Remember Chapter 1 of A. Smith and Chapter 7 of D. Ricardo

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Darrell West might be correct that a more-open immigration policy is easier to sell to the public if that policy focuses on admitting foreigners who are very smart and well-educated (“We Need an Einstein Immigration Policy,” July 16).  But as a matter of economics it’s untrue that only high-skilled workers have “the potential to enhance American innovation and competitiveness.”

By relieving engineers, web designers, chemists, and other high-skilled workers of the need to mow their own lawns, prepare their own meals, wash their own cars, and repair their own leaky faucets, low-skilled workers create more time for high-skilled workers to offer high-value contributions.  In short, low-skilled workers frequently complement high-skilled workers – making both kinds of workers more productive.

Skeptics of the above claim can offer to clear their tables and wash the dishes they use whenever they dine at restaurants.  If the above claim is mistaken, these skeptics will not mind donating their time and energy to do what is normally done by low-skilled workers.

Donald J. Boudreaux

A wonderful treatment of this particular point – as well as of many other issues on the economics and political economy of immigration – is found in Philippe Legrain, Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them (Princeton University Press, 2007).