Strassel has a long interview with George W Bush on his
immigration bill in the WSJ today, as Dani
Rodrik takes over the equivalent NYT real-estate with his own argument in
favor of it. The two men are strange bedfellows indeed, but ultimately it’s
not that surprising that they come down on the same side of this issue. What’s
more interesting is that their arguments barely overlap.
Bush is clearly aiming his arguments at anti-immigration Republicans. A quick
run-down of what he says: there won’t be two Americas, since the country can
and will assimilate Mexican immigrants — many of whom, in Texas, have become
prominent and valuable members of society. Supporters of free markets should
support free labor markets, because immigrants add to economic output, and we
need immigrants to do the jobs American’s can’t or won’t do. At the same time,
we should not encourage a system which exploits them, under which good people
These are good reasons to support the immigration bill. But they neglect to
mention the centerpiece of Rodrik’s argument: that the $35 billion or so per
year which would be earned by legal immigrants from poor nations would exceed
the amount that the US spends on foreign aid, and even the amount that those
nations stand to benefit from the current round of multilateral trade talks.
And rather than the benefits accruing mainly for those countries’ elites, the
money would go directly into workers’ pockets.
A system carefully designed with incentives for guest workers to return to
their countries would also help allay fears that this scheme will poach the
most economically productive citizens from nations who can ill afford to lose
In other words, Bush looks at the good this bill will do for the US, while
Rodrik concentrates on the good it will do for the world’s poor workers and
countries. The difference is understandable. Much of the US population does
not have a sophisticated understanding of positive-sum games, which means that
if they’re told that other countries will benefit, they’ll worry that the US
must be losing out in the bargain. What’s more, it is indeed true that US low-skilled
workers do get paid less as a result of low-skill immigration. So Rodrik’s
argument is unlikely to garner many votes, even though on a moral and intellectual
basis it’s probably the stronger one.