Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Over 500 economists refute right-wing immigration myth.

We all know the drill by now. When science or academics studies don't jive with a right-wing position, they just ignore it, usually finding some "expert" or think tank to formulate an alternative reality for them. Global warming becomes just a natural fluctuation in climate, evolution is just a theory and cavemen really did ride dinosaurs, sex education makes teenage girls get pregnant, and giving rich people huge tax cuts always benefits the poor.

For the past year, Republicans and their media minion have relentlessly waged a campaign to create another alternative reality, this one dealing with the "immigration crisis." Using statistics from right-wing think tanks like CIS, and the Heritage Foundation, or studies from carefully selected academics like George Borjas, they have managed to do with immigration what they've done with other wedge issues; create a narrative that runs contrary to most accepted scientific and academic knowledge. They have created the great immigration myth. Last month 500 leading economists took that myth on and refuted it.

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Like parading out a few snowflake babies to cloud the issue with statistically irrelevant anomalies, the right wing has taken a mixture of anecdotal evidence, widely accepted misconceptions, and situations that deviate from the norm and transformed them into the universal truths in their immigration myth. It's a myth that revolves around the great price paid by average hardworking American citizens because of the influx of those who flaunt their disrespect for our laws by their very presence amongst us.

We've all heard the claims before, repeated nightly on the evening news, or screaming from the headlines of newspapers or weeklies. We've been told of the threat to American workers from cheap-labor undocumented workers, or the raising costs of healthcare and education due to the "illegals" in our mist. All have heard about the economic drain and social upheaval caused by a horde uninvited guests suckling on the national teat.

It's a compelling myth. It's a myth that serves the same purpose all myth has served since the beginning of time. It explains to a people, with a mix of fantasy and simplicity, the causation of that which they fear or creates anxieties.

In this case it addresses a core insecurity that prevails in much of working and middle-class America. It's a myth about the causes of their growing apprehension that the current economic system is no longer working to their advantage.

Like all mythology, the right-wing immigration myth cannot hold up to scientific or academic investigation. This is why they must rely on their own "experts" to perpetuate it. But like the "science" that explains creationism or intelligent design, the vast majority mainstream academics find their claims to be faulty.

Last month, the challenging of the right-wing immigration myth took the form of an open letter to President Bush and Congress signed by a collection of the nations top economists. Entitled, "Open Letter on Immigration," the letter contained a list of over 500 signatories, including those of 5 Nobel Laureates-Thomas C. Schelling (University of Maryland), Robert Lucas (University of Chicago),Daniel McFadden (University of California, Berkeley), Vernon Smith (George Mason University), and James Heckman (University of Chicago).

Throughout our history as an immigrant nation, those who were already here have worried about the impact of newcomers. Yet, over time, immigrants have become part of a richer America, richer both economically and culturally. The current debate over immigration is a healthy part of a democratic society, but as economists and other social scientists we are concerned that some of the fundamental economics of immigration are too often obscured by misguided commentary.

Overall, immigration has been a net gain for American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 13 trillion-dollar economy.

Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.

In recent decades, immigration of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to have been small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.

While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.

Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system, that enable Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.


Representing the bipartisan nature of the letter, signatories include noted economists that have worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations. These included, N. Gregory Mankiw (Harvard University), former Chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, and J. Bradford DeLong (University of California, Berkeley), Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton, as well as Alfred Kahn (Cornell University), Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board under President Jimmy Carter, and Paul McCracken (University of Michigan), Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Richard Nixon.

When these eminent economists talk about are their "concerned that some of the fundamental economics of immigration are too often obscured by misguided commentary," they speak directly to the right-wing immigration myth-makers. Just as is the case with global warming and evolution, the Republican mythologists present their fringe beliefs as having equal credibility with mainstream scientific and academic knowledge. They present their views as accepted fact.

For every academically sound economic study on immigration presented by a well respected social scientist, the mythmakers counter with one of their dubious reports put out by a right-wing think tank. The American people rarely read economic journals, or academic papers, but they do watch their nightly news, and it is here where the mythmakers make their mark. The right-wing needs but one talking-head from CIS to make the rounds of the evening news to counter the work of hundreds of academic studies and surveys sitting on dusty library shelves.

Hopefully the words of these 500+ economists and social scientist will somehow make an impact on this debate and finally force the conversation to move from the realm of the mythological to the world of the logical. Perhaps those who control the means of information dissemination will finally allow the American people to form their opinions based on facts readily available as opposed to fantasies and mythologies spun by masters of deception.

1 comment:

reasoned insanity said...

This would make for an interesting post, but considering that it hold NO refutations of anything that CIS says, it is worthless. I'm sorry, but if you are going to bash a site that uses such scientific means to gather its information, you had damn well better come up with some scientificly proveable proofs of your own view. Overall, the paper is cute, but are nothing more than the rantings of someone who hates the fact that some people want to enforce our immigration laws.