Borjas on Immigration in 1996

George Borjas is out with a new book on immigration. It’s title, “We Wanted Workers” comes from a comment by a Swiss playwright which translates roughly as “we wanted workers but we got people instead.”

I am swamped and haven’t gotten to Borjas’ book yet (truth to tell – there is a lot of stuff higher on my current to do list and time is limited) but he has been pretty consistent for a long time. Here is a lengthy article he wrote for The Atlantic in 1996. This piece may be a good summary of what Borjas keeps noting, and which seems self-evident to me given current immigration policy in the US:

Economic research teaches a very valuable lesson: the economic impact of immigration is essentially distributional. Current immigration redistributes wealth from unskilled workers, whose wages are lowered by immigrants, to skilled workers and owners of companies that buy immigrants’ services, and from taxpayers who bear the burden of paying for the social services used by immigrants to consumers who use the goods and services produced by immigrants.

There is nothing wrong with taking the position that current policies should be continued and even expanded. There is something wrong with denying what that implies. Policies are something we as a country pick. They aren’t handed down from the heavens or etched in stone. If we choose to favor low skilled immigrants and the businesses that employ them over the taxpayer and low skilled workers already in the country, let us at least be honest about it.

Full disclosure – I have structured my affairs so that in general, I benefit from the policies that have been in place over the last few decades. I recognize that many Americans don’t have that option.