Sunday, February 10, 2013

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor and Your Economists, Too

by N. Gregory Mankiw

New York Times

February 9, 2013

All the recent talk in Washington about reforming immigration policy brings to mind Pat Paulsen, the comedian who, every four years, conducted faux campaigns for president.

“All the problems we face in the United States today,” Mr. Paulsen would say, “can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.”

That quip contains a deep truth. Almost all Americans today are beneficiaries of a policy that welcomed our ancestors when they arrived at the border.

As an economist, I am often surprised at the hostility that some segments of the population express toward immigration. Most members of my profession are far more receptive to it, and for three main reasons.

First, many economists, especially conservative ones, have a libertarian streak. Ever since Adam Smith taught us about the wonders of free markets and the magic of the invisible hand, we have been loath to prohibit mutually advantageous trades between consenting adults. If an American farmer wants to hire a worker to pick fruits and vegetables, the fact that the worker happens to have been born in Mexico does not seem a compelling reason to stop the transaction.