The Real Politics of Immigration

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 29 2013 11:09 AM

The Real Politics of Immigration—It's About Culture, Not Economics

1359473210715

Via Dylan Matthews, the Hamilton Project has the great summary chart (above) comparing the findings about the short-term economic impact of immigration from two major studies by economists. I'm more of an Ottaviano-Peri man than a Borjas-Katz man because I believe in complementarity, the idea that immigrant workers increase the demand for skills (English language competence, for example) that even 'unskilled' U.S.-born workers have.

What it also shows you is that the actual economics of immigration are totally irrelevant to the political debate. The voters most likely to oppose high levels of immigration are precisely the people who Borjas and Katz say benefit from it economically. Meanwhile, immigration supporters and especially Spanish-dominant Latinos often feel the negative wage impact of immigration, since that's where complementarity plays the least role. In other words, if the immigration issue were about economics, then you'd see white working-class voters clamoring for amnesty and open borders while SEIU and MALDEF emphasized the need to secure the border before taking any further steps.

Of course you don't see that at all, which is why I strongly recommend that everyone read Mickey Kaus' points four and five against amnesty, which actually get to the crux of the issue.

Advertisement

He has a fear that immigrants from Latin America are "different" from earlier waves of immigration thanks to Mexico's geographical proximity to the United States and the existence of Univision and other Spanish-language media. That is, to my way of thinking, totally nuts. But it explains why there's enormous skepticism of immigration among white working-class voters who, research shows, benefit from it economically. It also explains why Cuban-Americans from Marco Rubio to Bob Menendez to yours truly feel emotionally invested in the issue, even though immigration restrictions aren't really applied to Cubans. Unfortunately, immigration scolds seem to be excessively afraid to voice their real concerns about this, which makes it difficult to address them with either evidence or policy concessions. Instead, we're stuck in a mostly phony argument about wages that does nothing to ease people's real fears about nationalism and identity.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Why Not Just Turn Campus Rape Allegations Over to the Police? Because the Police Don't Investigate.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.