Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant (RESPONSE)

The following is my email response to the author of an article in the New York Times Magazine.

Dear Mr. Davidson:

I recently read your article entitled “Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant,” and while it is always informative to read alternative points of view, I find your article misses some very important and practical points.

First (and briefly), we need to discriminate between “legal” and “illegal” immigration. Whether or not I agree with increasing immigration, doing so against or in spite of current laws causes harm. As you no doubt know, the economic benefits of a society based on law and order are enormous. If we start ignoring laws en masse, we are treading in dangerous waters. I would much prefer a legal, legislative solution that increased allowable immigration (even by large percentages). Extra-legal “solutions” to policy problems may appear attractive in the short term to those who agree with specific ideologies, but I have no doubt that the long-term consequences will be grim.

Second (and more relevant to your article), you are missing a major, MAJOR point regarding immigration: The number of welfare and social programs which a society offers. In point of fact, I agree with you that allowing more (legal) immigration is a recipe for economic advancement for our country. But as I have told others, you can have a welfare state OR practically unlimited immigration, but not both. If you want to initiate a 10% flat tax (preferably on consumption rather than production) and add a constitutional amendment that requires the federal government not run a deficit (including “unfunded liabilities”), then I am all in favor of wide open borders. While we are at it, let’s eliminate almost all of the job-killing regulation and allow the market decisions of millions and billions of people to set economic direction rather than the whims of an elite few.

But if we maintain the current socialist programs AND allow radically higher immigration, then I think you will have to admit that it will have a negative impact on current citizens. Unless you are guaranteeing that each and every new immigrant is going to be a producer of economic output, then we have to anticipate that one of two things will happen: Taxes will have to be raised to meet the increasing demands of social programs (which hurts ALL citizen workers who pay taxes — not just the “1%”) OR social programs will be forced to spread themselves thin using the same resources to service a much larger population (which hurts ALL citizen recipients of social welfare).

I suppose a third (extremely unlikely) scenario is that the added productivity and innovation provided by the immigrant population would offset any and all additional recipients of social welfare programs. There are many reasons this scenario seems fantastic, but one of the major reasons is simply that human beings are motivated by incentives. The better the “free” social welfare that is available, the less-inclined people are to work and work hard — citizens and immigrants alike. And this is not a disparagement of anyone. You can put me in the group of people that, when given a choice, will choose the path of least resistance. I am as motivated by incentives as anyone else.

So in summary, I agree with your basic thesis that the best-case scenario would be to encourage (legal) immigration and rely on the productivity and innovation of our larger population to increase the wealth of our nation as a whole. But this scenario can only play out in a society that has a responsible fiscal policy, common sense social programs that encourage people to work, the bare minimum of economic regulation, and a tax system that does not punish productive citizens (including new citizen immigrants) in an attempt at redistribution to non-producers.

I work in the financial industry, but I am neither a writer nor an economist, so I would appreciate your more knowledgeable take on my hypotheses. If I have erred in some fundamental way in my analysis, then I would like to know.

Thank you for your time.

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