Tag Archives: high versus low skill

Economists want more immigration, why don’t you?

A perennial assertion of open borders skeptics is that they are the voice of reason and empirics in the immigration debate, while open borders advocates are soft-headed people thinking with their hearts instead of their brains. So this humble blogger spent a Friday lunch hour in Washington, D.C. attending a Cato Institute panel titled What Economists Think About Immigration. Incidentally, the panel was broadcast on C-SPAN, and thanks to them, you can also view the full panel online.

Of the four people on stage, only one was a new face to me:

  1. Alex Nowrasteh (moderator of the panel, Cato Institute researcher, and an Open Borders blogger)
  2. Madeline Zavodny (panelist, chair of the Agnes Scott College economics department)
  3. Ethan Lewis (panelist, associate professor of economics at Dartmouth, and my former econometrics professor)
  4. Michael Clemens (panelist, Center for Global Development researcher, and the man who single-handedly changed the way I think about immigration)

Zavogny presented first, talking about high-skilled immigrants to the US and how they contribute economically to the US. I think even open borders skeptics tend to favour high-skilled immigration. Those who don’t are either unmoored from reality, or openly admit that they don’t have a hard empirical reason for their belief that high-skilled immigrants should be banned from taking good jobs. So I won’t cover Zavogny’s presentation in depth.

Clemens presented third, but similar to Zavogny, I don’t think he covered much terribly new ground in the debate (at least, that would be new to someone already familiar with the academic debate on immigration’s empirical impacts). Clemens presented a version of his double world GDP lecture, covering the usual ground: immense gains to migrants, doubling world GDP, banning “brain drain” dehumanises immigrants and doesn’t help anyone, and ending restrictions on freedom of movement may seem crazy, but crazier things have happened (see: the abolition of slavery).

Lewis, on the other hand, presented some really compelling and new material. To me, one of the new things was how strongly he feels about immigration! I suppose econometrics does not lend itself to very passionate lectures, but although I knew he studied immigration while I was a student of his, I had no inkling of the depth of his support for reducing immigration restrictions.  (Full disclosure: I was also a student of his wife, Elizabeth Cascio, who supervised my senior seminar and final economics paper.) Even more new and exciting to me: Lewis presented some of his latest work, which finds that immigration has boosted the income of Americans across the board — even low-income Americans.

Perhaps the most commonly-cited harm of immigration is its impact on the wages and employment of natives. Immigration supposedly reduces wages across the board. This is a complete myth, which no economist would sign on to (at least, none that I’ve read, including prominent skeptics). There is concern among a few economists that immigration harms income and employment for low-earning natives. However, few find this result, and most that do have been subject to various criticisms: the impact they find is extremely small (the most popular estimate here would suggest that 20 years of immigration to the US resulted in a cumulative 3% decline in low-earning natives’ wages); it’s sensitive to the removal of a few data points; it doesn’t account for how capital investments  react to the influx of labour; it relies on data from a period when other things driving reduction in wages, such as the decline of trade unions, could be confounding the results.

Lewis presents a slide (at roughly the 25:30 mark in the C-SPAN recording) suggesting that not only has immigration increased the wages of high-skilled natives, as you would expect — it has also increased the wages of low-skilled natives. Why does the wage data suggest this? What plausible mechanisms are there? Lewis suggests two major things:

  1. Changes in the use of capital — firms respond to an influx of immigrants by investing less in capital than they had planned, creating jobs for low-skilled natives as well as immigrants and ameliorating the potential negative wage impacts for low-skilled natives
  2. Immigrants compete in a different labour market than natives — immigrants whose English fluency is limited or non-existent will compete among one another for jobs, and natives emerge unscathed thanks to their English skills

Lewis presents the arguments for these mechanisms quite well, so I’d urge you to watch his talk yourself. In particular, he has a number of interesting charts backing all these points up. My understanding is he has a forthcoming paper that will fully flesh out the ideas in his presentation. My take is this is just one data point, but if you’re analytically evaluating the likely outcomes of more immigration, seeing this ought to make you revise upward your assessment of the probability that immigration helps or doesn’t harm natives. And given the existing literature, that assessment should already have been assigned a fairly high probability in the first place — certainly not the 0% chance that so often seems to be assumed in immigration debates.

Lewis wraps up his talk by urging the audience to think beyond the current policy debate in Washington, which focuses today primarily on whether to regularise the 11 million unauthorised immigrants currently living in the US. He points out that it makes absolutely no sense to ban people from migrating in the first place, and given the immense gains to the migrants, even if you don’t believe his estimates, you should be happy to enforce a tax or fee on them that captures some of those gains, to ensure all natives benefit from immigration.

Economists overwhelmingly reject popular myths that immigrants are economic harms. Yet these myths refuse to die. We no longer believe that Jews drink the blood of babies, that Chinese eat rats, or that Irish are just drunk beggars. Why do we believe that people born on the other side of an invisible line called the national border are an incredible harm to us, while people born on the other side of an invisible line demarcating a county or province are perfectly guiltless? Both types of people are as likely to “steal” our jobs and drive down our wages. But one person we call a criminal for crossing that invisible line; the other, we call a good citizen.

I can’t echo my former professor’s words enough. We need to think beyond today’s debates about immigration. The fact is, today’s debates rely on ignorant assumptions about immigration. They assume immigrants are “job thieves”. Having a debate on these terms is like arguing whether we should let more Jews in or hold back lest they start drinking our children’s blood or poisoning our wells. We’re starting from premises so utterly wrong that there’s no point having the debate.

Of course the US should have a process for legalising people who’ve lived in the US for a long period of time. If they ever did any harm by crossing an invisible line 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, as long as they aren’t committing any crimes and harming anyone today, we should live and let live. This is so basic that as Lewis says, we need to think bigger. We need to reject the myths of the past, and adopt a reality-based immigration policy — one that embraces all human beings as people with dreams and goals and potential and contributions that will enrich us all and build our communities.

Jim Manzi’s thoughts on immigration are surprisingly ill-considered

Jim Manzi, the founder of Applied Predictive Technologies, last year published the book Uncontrolled, an excellent exposition of the view that business and government should rely on more randomised field trials to assess the value of different choices. Overall I found little to disagree with in the book, except when it came to immigration. Manzi leans right in his politics, but in general refrains from regurgitating standard right-wing political bromides; unfortunately, immigration seems to be an exception to this rule.

Manzi only touches on immigration in the book when discussing actual recommendations; besides a selective immigration policy, his other recommendations include expanding school vouchers and promoting government spending in R&D. Manzi views existing US immigration policy as rather destructive, and I agree. He and I both see eye to eye on the point that US policy arbitrarily and absurdly treats high-skilled immigrants. But Manzi paints with an unnecessarily broad brush when it comes to low-skilled and unauthorised immigration.

Manzi suggests that with immigration policy permitting low-skilled immigration:

It is hard to imagine a more damaging way to expose the fault lines of America’s political economy: We have chosen a strategy that provides low-wage gardeners and nannies for the elite, low-cost home improvement and fresh produce for the middle class, and fierce wage competition for the working class.

The “fierce wage competition” bit itself is controversial. It is commonly taken for granted that of course immigration lowers wages, but empirical data supporting this claim is thin on the ground. Manzi wisely limits this critique to the working class (as there is essentially zero convincing evidence that immigration suppresses wages for middle- to upper-income workers), but even there, only a handful of studies have ever shown wage impacts larger than something on the order of reductions around 1 or 2% for low-income earners. The consensus estimate remains that immigration at worst impacts the most vulnerable earners at a negligible level. This is not great, but it hardly suggests “fierce” competition.

Manzi’s other points make even less sense, for one could argue that the only thing preventing the middle class from enjoying low-wage gardeners and nannies, or the working class from enjoying low-cost home improvement, is in fact restrictive immigration policies. The typical citizen of the UAE, after all, enjoys the benefits of cheap immigrant labour, regardless of income level! A tangible example that most people might find more relatable: in Malaysia, it’s typical for middle-class white collar workers to hire live-in maids, and even lower-income workers might be able to afford maids coming in every so often to clean. Manual labour for any task you desire, from moving to home renovation, is both abundant and cheap. In both cases, a very significant portion of the work force is foreign.

You might resist this, arguing that it’s not a slam dunk that this is what would happen if the US or any rich country opened its borders. I agree, it’s not a slam dunk at all. But neither is it implausible. And on the other hand, it’s certainly impossible to take for granted Manzi’s assertion that liberal immigration policy widens the income and socioeconomic gaps between rich and poor.

Manzi agrees that his preferred high-skilled immigration policy is not an obvious slam dunk — he also obliquely points out that it’s difficult to know what criteria on which to select high-skilled immigrants, although he takes pains to cite Australia and Canada as examples to learn from. Manzi proposes that the US “test and learn” via visa allocation. Come up with different rules to target high-skilled immigrants, and approve a small number of visas following these different rules. Follow the population of admitted immigrants over time to see how they perform on a number of indicators, and refine the visa regime accordingly.

I fully agree with the broad thrust of Manzi’s sentiments; test and learn is a fantastic motto. But given the empirical evidence that suggests low-skilled immigration is often highly beneficial in its own way, why limit the test purely to high-skilled options? Surely one can test alternative rules besides those aimed at picking up high-skilled immigrants? Experiment with different visas beyond just granting guest worker permits or green cards? Experiment with different ways of allocating visas altogether? Manzi remarkably omits one of the best test and learn examples of immigration policy I know of in the world today — the Canadian policy of allowing provinces to sponsor a certain number of visas for just about anyone they like.

Finally, Manzi in a throwaway remark suggests that the US can only get its immigration house in order “[o]nce we have reestablished control of our southern border.” I think this makes a remarkable assumption about history: that the US ever had totalitarian control of its borders in the first place. I’m not aware of empirical evidence suggesting that this is the case, and would be glad if anyone could show me that for a reasonable period of time in history, the US government actually tightly monitored and controlled a very large proportion (say >90%) of border crossings. The restrictionist-hallowed 1950s Operation Wetback was necessary in the first place because so many Mexicans were able to cross the border undetected.

A restrictive border control system that can detect and punish most to all unauthorised border crossings is the right-wing ideal, but for any other than the smallest or more geographically-isolated countries, I’m not convinced such a system has historically existed (at least outside totalitarian dictatorships) or can exist. Even North Korea faces difficulties with people smuggling South Korean soap opera DVDs and cellphones across its borders. A determined government can surely stop >90% of unauthorised border crossings, but only at substantial fiscal and political cost. For Manzi to blithely assume this can be so easily accomplished, and then move on to proposing his test-and-learn skills-based immigration policies, strikes me as strange.

None of this is to say Uncontrolled is not worth reading or ill-thought out. The immigration section of the book struck me for how out-of-place it seemed compared to other sections of the book. When I was in university I focused my studies in economics on education and immigration; Manzi has a lot to say on education, and I found little to quarrel with in his characterisation of the academic policy debates around education. Manzi has comparatively little to say on immigration, and unfortunately, it looks like he was not as thorough in his coverage of the issue. And if Jim Manzi, a smart and well-read businessman and public intellectual can make such egregious oversights and oversimplifications in discussing immigration, just about anybody can. The quality of public thinking and discourse about immigration is unfortunately disproportionately poor, compared to the potential it has to offer all of us.

Discrimination and the semi-open border

A couple weeks ago the American Civil Liberties Union updated its position on the Senate’s immigration bill. Overall, the ACLU seemed to favor the bill for its path to citizenship and for due process improvements in detention and deportation processes. One of their concerns was that “LGBT couples do not have the same rights as straight couples in immigration proceedings.” The ACLU blog post was written before the US Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, a ruling that for the most part renders moot discrimination against gay couples in the Senate immigration bill, at least at the federal level. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that at a time of cascading victories for gay rights, when even opponents feel the inevitability of gay equality, one instance where discrimination can gain support is that of gay couples bestriding the border.

Of course, I’m probably overstating this effect. Those pushing to discriminate against gays in immigration proceedings are the same as those pushing to discriminate against all-American gays. Yet discrimination is a common theme in immigration restrictions. Though I view it as strategically unwise–not to mention unfair and not altogether honest–to denounce immigration restrictions as inherently racist, it’s also unwise to ignore the blatantly racist history of American immigration policies. Chris Hendrix has blogged about the first major restrictionist legislation, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, but even before this, naturalization (as opposed to immigration) was restricted on explicitly racist grounds. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted naturalization to “free white persons” of “good moral character”. This may not be surprising for a nation that allowed legal slavery of Africans and those of African descent for nearly a century, but this racial requirement was the law of the land until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Immigration isn’t the same as citizenship, yet this unpalatable history is clearly relevant to today’s discussions of immigrant assimilation (citizen or otherwise).

Perhaps partially as a result of this legal requirement, much of the history of assimilation has been entwined with the idea of “whiteness”. The story of the Irish in America, for example, has been one of transforming from a “racial” group into an “ethnic” group. In a reflection on St Patrick’s Day a few years ago on racismreview.com, blogger Jessie writes:

Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century, Irish Americans managed to a great extent to enter and become part of the dominant white culture. In an attempt to secure the prosperity and social position that their white skin had not guaranteed them in Europe, Irish immigrants lobbied for white racial status in America. Although Irish people’s pale skin color and European roots suggested evidence of their white racial pedigree, the discrimination that immigrants experienced on the job (although the extent of the “No Irish Need Apply” discrimination is disputed), the simian caricatures they saw of themselves in the newspapers, meant that “whiteness” was a status that would be achieved, not ascribed.

For some time now, Irish-Americans have been thoroughly regarded as “white.” Evidence of this assimilation into whiteness is presented by Mary C. Waters (Harvard) in a recent AJPH article, in which she writes that the once-rigid lines that divided European-origin groups from one another have increasingly blurred. Waters goes on to predict that the changes that European immigrants have experienced are “becoming more likely for groups we now define as ‘racial.’” While I certainly agree that the boundaries of whiteness are malleable – it is a racial category that expands and contracts based on historical, cultural and social conditions – I don’t know if it is malleable enough to include all the groups we now define as ‘racial’ Others.

Emphases in original. The intimate relationship between whiteness and American assimilation is possibly best described in the language of historical court decisions. In a paper titled Immigration and the Meaning of United States Citizenship: Whiteness and Assimilation (ungated here), SMU law professor George Martinez quotes some real legal gems:

[Assimilation] as a proxy for whiteness is confirmed by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Thind. In rejecting an immigrant from India’s claim to whiteness and the right to naturalize, the Court explained that Indians were unable to assimilate:

The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry. It is far from our thought to suggest the slightest question of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation.

Lower court cases further confirm a connection between assimilation and whiteness. In United States v. Cartozian, the court considered whether Armenians were white. Connecting assimilation with whiteness, the court held that “it may be confidently affirmed that the Armenians are white persons, and moreover that they readily amalgamate with the European and white races.” Similarly, in In re Ahmed Hassan, the court held that Arabs were not white persons, observing that

it is well known that they are part of the Mohammedan world and that a wide gulf separates their culture from that of the predominantly Christian peoples of Europe. It cannot be expected that as a class they would readily intermarry with our population and be assimilated into our civilization.

Martinez goes on to quote the Supreme Court’s logic upholding the legality of the Chinese Exclusion Act: “[If Congress] considers the presence of foreigners of a different race in this country, who will not assimilate with us, to be dangerous to its peace and security … [Congress’s] determination is conclusive upon the judiciary.”

Explicit racism in immigration restrictions persisted after the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 formally severed the concepts “American” and “white”. In a curious collusion of Mexican emigration restrictionists and American immigration restrictionists, “Operation Wetback” was launched in 1954 to deport illegal Mexican immigrants and limit further Mexican immigration. The dangers, of course, are that a long history of racist justifications for immigration restrictions doesn’t just disappear down the memory hole when the law is officially changed and that explicit racism in American immigration policy has merely been replaced by implicit racism. One place to start looking for such implicit discrimination would be in the federal Secure Communities program, which has been criticized for encouraging racial profiling.

But I don’t want this post to be entirely about the historical connection between immigration restrictions and racism. Another, more subtle kind of discrimination is at play in the modern immigration debate, even in more enlightened quarters: discrimination against lower classes. A recent incarnation of this is the moralized evocation and denunciation of a “moocher class” composed of the lazy poor who take handouts from the government and give nothing back to society in return. The reality is somewhat different, with many upper class individuals failing to realize when they have benefited from government programs. As with racial discrimination, discrimination by socioeconomic class makes generalizations about large groups of individuals and judges them to be somehow worth just a little less than the dominant group.

This class discrimination arises in the distinction between “skilled” and “low-skilled” immigrants. Many people skeptical of allowing more low-skilled migrants across the border can even be quite enthusiastic supporters of more immigration of skilled workers. Reihan Salam of the National Review has summed it up this way:

The goal of means-tested benefits and publicly-funded human capital investment is to better the lives of all members of the American polity, but particularly the most vulnerable, by giving them a foundation for participation in our shared economic and civic life. We might disagree about how much we ought to spend and how these programs are structured, with people like me favoring a limited scope for social programs, choice and competition, and an emphasis on work supports, etc., but support for the idea of a safety net and a place for the public sector in education is pretty firmly entrenched. When we expand the American polity, it makes intuitive sense that we would want to do so by welcoming individuals who are already well-prepared to fully participate in economic and civic life, as we’ve learned through long experience that people who are ill-prepared will face tremendous difficulties, as will their children. For a variety of reasons, individuals with 8th grade education and limited English proficiency are less likely to flourish in the U.S. than individuals with a college education and a high degree of English proficiency. If it is also true that less-skilled and less-affluent U.S. residents with limited English proficiency benefit more from an influx of skilled immigrants (potential customers or complements) than from an influx of less-skilled immigrants with limited English proficiency (potential competitors), the case for a more selective, skills-based immigration policy becomes even stronger.

While this technocratic approach sounds sensible enough from some national central planner’s perspective, it sounds paternalistic from a view closer to the ground, as if those who are deciding when and how to “expand the American polity” are protecting low-skilled migrants from the “tremendous difficulties” of living in a developed country. People have been migrating to strange new places with novel difficulties to navigate ever since we spread beyond Africa. As autonomous agents directing the course of their own lives, presumably migrants have assessed the risks and difficulties of migrating to a new country and have judged their chances of flourishing to be greater with moving than with staying. This is true even for migrants “low-skilled” but nonetheless savvy enough to pursue higher wages when and where they can be found. If “low-skilled” workers will fail to flourish in a high-income host country, then they will almost certainly fail to flourish to a greater degree in their poorer countries of origin. And of course flourishing may be relative, with modest living in a rich country amounting to serious comfort to those who have only experienced modest living in a poor country.

The paternalistic, for-their-own-good argument seems to be a thin veil concealing the desire to make the “American polity” look a certain way.  The low-skilled migration restrictionists do not seem to be concerned with removing poverty so much as with removing poverty from view. I suspect the distinction between low- and high-skilled immigrants is really a euphemism for discriminating against poor and lower class immigrants. High-skilled immigrants, regardless of absolute wealth levels, are usually richer than low-skilled immigrants and they are certainly more educated. High-skilled immigrants have grown up in families that would be considered culturally elite or at least middle class in their countries of origin (this is how they attained the human capital to qualify as “skilled”). As such, high-skilled workers will more easily fit into “nice” parts of the rich world, like suburbs and medical schools. And they will do the host country the benefit of adding diversity to these institutions, making them appear more inclusive while still keeping out the riff-raff. They will not need to live in dense slums many-to-a-room in living conditions middle class natives find distasteful.

Low-skilled immigrants, by contrast, are more likely to come from lower social classes in their countries of origin and this will translate immediately, if not permanently, into a similar socioeconomic status in a rich host country. With that status come all of the disadvantages the native poor face, with the additional disadvantage living under constant threat of unceremonious deportation.

I don’t doubt the desire of folks like Reihan Salam to improve the lots of low-skilled natives, and even better, their desire for an institutional framework in which low-skilled natives improve their lots themselves. The problem is that their motivation to do so is to create a more superficially attractive nation, rather than to construct an actual engine of human flourishing.

Why open borders are the solution to brain drain

I’m intensely ambivalent about the new book by Paul Collier, Exodus, that’s scheduled to come out in October of this year. Of course, I don’t know exactly what’s in it. But I know the author: Collier is a respected development economist and author of The Bottom Billion, one of the best books on the world’s poorest people and the causes of the world’s direst poverty. And Amazon provides a preview of the contents of Exodus.

More than ever before, those in the poorest countries-the bottom billion-feel the lure of greater opportunities beyond their borders. Indeed, the scale of migration driven by international inequality is so massive that it could make nations as we know them obsolete.

In Exodus, world-renowned economist and bestselling author Paul Collier lays out the effects of encouraging or restricting migration in the interests of both sending and receiving societies. Drawing on original research and numerous case studies, Collier explores this volatile issue from three unique perspectives: the migrants themselves, the people they leave behind, and the host societies where they relocate. As Collier shows, those who migrate from the poorest countries, primarily though not exclusive the young, tend to be the best educated and most energetic in their cultures. And while migrants often benefit economically, the larger impacts of mass migrations remain unsettling. The danger is that both host countries and sending societies may lose their national identities– an outcome that Collier suggests would be disastrous as national identity is a powerful force for equity. Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies that make the investment on which migrant gains rely.

Sharply written and brilliantly clarifying, Exodus offers a provocative analysis on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Interestingly, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution linked to the Amazon page and apparently quoted it, except with slightly different words:

…bestselling author Paul Collier makes a powerful case for the ethical legitimacy of restricting migration in the interests of both sending and receiving societies… [the rest is the same]

I don’t know where Cowen got the text he quoted, which makes the book sound a little more restrictionist than the book description that actually appears at Amazon. Will Collier “make a powerful case for the ethical legitimacy of” migration restrictions, I wonder? Or not? Still, the Amazon book description still says that “Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies,” etc.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but it does seem to matter whether Collier is simply arguing that it would be in poor countries’ interest to restrict certain kinds of migration, and lazily advising this as good economic policy without inquiring into whether it’s ethically legitimate or not, or whether Collier is actually going to try to defend the ethical proposition that it is licit for countries to cage their citizens inside and not let them leave. If he is going to argue that, he is, I think, breaking somewhat new ground. Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Soviet restrictions on their citizens’ right to travel abroad or emigrate were long recognized as a violation of fundamental human rights. The Berlin Wall was built for the purpose of violating East German citizens’ right to emigrate. I don’t know as much about this as I would like to, but other than North Korea, how many states today attempt to prohibit emigration? Certainly a lot of people lack the right to emigrate de facto because nowhere will accept them, and this is one of the systemic abuses that open borders advocates want to overcome; but how many states curtail the right to emigrate per se? Or is Collier simply going to argue that other countries should cage citizens of poor countries at home so as to promote the development of their homelands, thus backing into the curtailment of the right to emigrate without attacking it head-on? Continue reading “Why open borders are the solution to brain drain” »

Mark Zuckerberg

I suppose it’s great news that Mark Zuckerberg is organizing a lobbying group to support immigration reform, as he announces here (see also our past coverage). But at the end of the day, I don’t think there’s actually a good economic rationale for the “high skill only” approach that the tech sector seems to prefer, and I’m ambivalent about its getting more money and a high-profile endorsement. Let’s take a look at the case Zuckerberg makes:

Earlier this year I started teaching a class on entrepreneurship at an after-school program in my community… One day I asked my students what they thought about going to college. One of my top aspiring entrepreneurs told me he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to go to college because he’s undocumented. His family is from Mexico, and they moved here when he was a baby. Many students in my community are in the same situation; they moved to the United States so early in their lives that they have no memories of living anywhere else.

These students are smart and hardworking, and they should be part of our future.

Fair enough. But why should only the “smart and hardworking” students be part of our future? The principles of comparative advantage imply that there are gains from trade with all sorts of people, not just “smart and hardworking” ones. Immigrants who are sort of dumb and/or a bit lazy can also gain by coming here, and we can gain by hiring them, renting them accommodations, selling goods to them, maybe even marrying them (e.g., if we have no other marital options, or if in addition to being sort of dumb and/or a bit lazy, they’re beautiful and nice). Meritocracy has its place, but is there really a good reason for the mere right to reside in the US to be allocated in a meritocratic fashion? And even if you want to discriminate in favor of the “smart and hardworking,” how?

This is, after all, the American story. My great-grandparents came through Ellis Island. My grandfathers were a mailman and a police officer. My parents are doctors. I started a company. None of this could have happened without a welcoming immigration policy, a great education system and the world’s leading scientific community that created the Internet.

Today’s students should have the same opportunities — but our current system blocks them.

Good. But remember that Ellis Island accepted almost everyone, not just the “smart and hardworking.” Continue reading “Mark Zuckerberg” »