The Corner

Economics and Immigration Cont’d

WFB wrote this the other week:

Critics of the existing arrangements, which are simply latitudinarian — there are laws respecting immigration, and people do not abide by them, so what? — are telling us that the effect of laws not abided by is a distortion of the labor market. If the farmer isn’t finding applicants for his apple-picking at $3 per hour, let him try offering $5 per hour.

But a producer always seeks to lower costs; that is his primary role in the market equation. So our farmer has simply continued to use illegal workers. Now he is faced with the legalization of the same people he was getting for $3, and contemplates the prospect of having to pay the minimum wage of more than $5.

The late Robert Bartley, the visionary apostle of the market, preached year after year against efforts to override the market. His doctrine would have eliminated any immigration laws, his faith in the market being such as to ordain its findings as transcending political considerations.

But realism does not always yield to economic dictation. It is one thing for the analyst to rule that the simple way to adjudicate the discrepancy between unemployment in Mexico and high employment in the United States is to let Mexicans move north until equilibrium sets in. But that overview simply denies basic cultural propositions. Societies are different, and they cannot solve every problem by merging.


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