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And What are “Proper Wages”?

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Criticizing your support for more open immigration, David Maughan – assuming that most “illegals” work in agriculture – notes that “the differential in labor cost to the price of food on our table” is “tiny” (Letters, Sept. 23).  So he concludes that it’s “well worth paying proper wages and hiring legals” (Letters, Sept. 23).

Suppose government were to limit the number people with freckles allowed to seek paid employment.  No employer could lawfully hire a freckled person unless that person documents that he or she has formal government approval to work.  But people being people, many unscrupulous employers nevertheless hire undocumented freckled folk.

If some scholar then presents evidence showing that the employment of undocumented freckleds lowers the prices of consumer goods by only a “tiny” amount, would Mr. Maughan conclude that the economy is well-served by government’s policy of protecting us non-freckleds from competing in the labor market with our freckled cousins?  More significantly, would he insist that the prices of consumer goods are an appropriate metric by which to assess the morality of government using its muscle to arbitrarily prevent some adults from voluntarily accepting employment with some other adults who would voluntarily hire them?

Donald J. Boudreaux