Handy guide to the Larger Issue: Justin Green, responding to the arguments over the Heritage Foundation’s estimate of the cost of immigration amnesty, says that what this debate is “really about” is whether we’re heading towards
a society where anything less than a college diploma is no longer sufficient to achieve the American Dream.
In other words: Unchecked, or vastly expanded, immigration opens the remaining unskilled jobs that can’t be outsourced to global low-wage competition. Even if the result would be a larger American economy overall, it would also be an economy where those diligently performing basic labor, who don’t have much in the way of skills or smarts, would be pushed out of the bottom of the middle class–while wealth continues to accumulate at the higher levels. There are basically three reactions to this (here I am echoing David Frum)
1. “Cato, the Club for Growth, the Wall Street Journal editorial page,” Grover Norquist, etc, value markets and dynamism. If society overall gets richer, they don’t much care how it is distributed or whether it creates nasty social divisions (not just rich vs. poor, but skilled vs. unskilled, smart vs. not-smart, lucky vs. unlucky). Those divisions may even create a powerful incentive to acquire valuable skills ( if you can).
2. Obama and the Democrats don’t like the distributional and social effects of open borders, but plan to handle them with a bigger web of government income transfers, social provision of benefits, training, and counseling (the cost of which is what Heritage is estimating), and by spreading unionism in the private sector. Also they need Latino votes.
3. Amnesty opponents (NumbersUSA, Frum, National Review)–the “bitter enders” : Would like to avoid the problem, perhaps at some cost to [overall] GDP, through the simple, traditional expedient of enforcing a border. That would tighten up the labor market at the bottom and give basic workers now in this country a shot at a middling income without relying on a more elaborate web of government transfers and services.
I’m a 3.
Update: Fred Bauer thinks Option #3 might actually maximize economic growth. His theory, in part: wage stagnation inevitably leads to growth-sapping government programs, etc. Not implausible! I think CBO should from now on score the costs of all anti-amnesty proposals with “dynamic scoring” based on Bauer’s model. …