Bush and Rodrik: Immigration Bedfellows


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.

This entry was posted in immigration. Bookmark the permalink.