… is from Adam Davidson’s excellent March 24, 2015, essay in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant “:
So why don’t we open up [borders to more immigrants]?
The chief logical mistake we make is something called the Lump of Labor Fallacy: the erroneous notion that there is only so much work to be done and that no one can get a job without taking one from someone else. It’s an understandable assumption. After all, with other types of market transactions, when the supply goes up, the price falls. If there were suddenly a whole lot more oranges, we’d expect the price of oranges to fall or the number of oranges that went uneaten to surge.
But immigrants aren’t oranges. It might seem intuitive that when there is an increase in the supply of workers, the ones who were here already will make less money or lose their jobs. Immigrants don’t just increase the supply of labor, though; they simultaneously increase demand for it, using the wages they earn to rent apartments, eat food, get haircuts, buy cellphones. That means there are more jobs building apartments, selling food, giving haircuts and dispatching the trucks that move those phones. Immigrants increase the size of the overall population, which means they increase the size of the economy. Logically, if immigrants were “stealing” jobs, so would every young person leaving school and entering the job market; countries should become poorer as they get larger. In reality, of course, the opposite happens.
Most anti-immigration arguments I hear are variations on the Lump of Labor Fallacy. That immigrant has a job. If he didn’t have that job, somebody else, somebody born here, would have it. This argument is wrong, or at least wildly oversimplified. But it feels so correct, so logical. And it’s not just people like my grandfather making that argument. Our government policy is rooted in it.