Jonah: My own views on immigration policy do not turn on whether our current policy has lowered the wages of low-skilled workers 1, 5, or 8 percent. Too often, it’s posited that the only non-economic reasons anyone could want increased restrictions on immigration (or increased enforcement of current restrictions) are racist. Lowenstein’s article alludes to this idea once or twice.
My own main concern is that we do not import racial strife, and I suspect that a reduced level of immigration would make assimilation go faster and thus make American society more cohesive and less prone to such strife. It would also, I think, make it easier for the immigrants we let in to succeed. Economics comes into the picture when I consider what cost my preferred policy would have. Lowenstein does not spend much time on this question: How much economic benefit does immigration bring to the people who were already here? Enthusiasts for immigration often say that immigration brings a net benefit of $10 billion, which seems fairly small in the context of our economy. One assumes that the immigrants themselves, reasonably enough, capture most of this benefit. It is thus hard to believe that changing the criteria for immigration to emphasize skills, as Borjas tentatively wants, or reducing the number of immigrants would wreak havoc on the economy.
(Incidentally, while I thought both the Wall Street Journal’s editorial and the pro-McCain/Kennedy statement it published today were well done–less peevish than previous comments on that page, certainly–they did nothing to counter this point.)