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That’s Where the Logic Leads

Here’s a letter to a sympathetic correspondent, whose name I use with his kind permission:

Mr. Glenn Temple

Dear Mr. Temple

Thanks for the link to Ken Blackwell’s Daily Caller essay on immigration.

You correctly guess that I reject his argument.  Blackwell supplies no evidence that “the nation as a whole has seen a dramatic depression in wages as we import more and more workers to compete for jobs.”  As obvious as such a connection between higher immigration and wage depression is to uncritical minds, long historical experience calls this connection into doubt.  Consider that in 2015 America’s population is 3.2 times larger than it was in 1915 and 39 times larger than it was in 1815.  If Blackwell’s implicit economic theory is correct, this huge population growth would have pushed Americans’ pay lower over these years.  Yet surely even Blackwell admits that Americans’ real wages have risen enormously over these years of significant population growth – growth to which immigration made a significant contribution.

This growth in real wages occurred, not despite, but largely because of population growth.  A larger population means a larger workforce.  A larger workforce, in turn, means not only that more production occurs, it means also that more creative, entrepreneurial minds are at work.  Creative entrepreneurial minds are the main driving force of economic growth.  Think Carnegie, Ford, Kroc, and Jobs.  In addition, a larger workforce means greater opportunities for specialization.  A town with only one physician must settle for a general practitioner; a city with many physicians enjoys the skills of cardiologists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, pediatricians, and podiatrists.  And just as medical care improves as its suppliers become more and more specialized, so, too, does the economy as a whole improve as its suppliers become more and more specialized.

If it were true that a government fails its citizens whenever it does not block economic forces that compete with existing workers, then ‘successful’ governments would block not only immigrants and imports; it would also block technology as well as criminalize entrepreneurship and consumers who change their buying patterns.  Such a government, intent on protecting existing workers from competitive pressures, would shutter most schools and cage or execute all those who dare to build better mousetraps.  Because Blackwell likely does not support such policies, he should reconsider the faulty economics that undergirds his objection to immigration.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

After I sent the above response to Mr. Temple, it occurred to me that any government intent on protecting current workers from any competition for their current jobs would also impose controls on the number of children each woman is allowed to have.  Such is where the illogic of attempting to protect existing producers from having to face new competitors logically leads.  It’s true, of course, that as a practical matter governments need not – and usually do not – follow the illogic of their faulty economics to its full extent.  But it’s always worthwhile to make clear just what that illogic implies if it is to be taken seriously as a basis for government policy.