With its blue-chip corporate backing and its strong establishmentarian pro-globalizing/free trade bias, it’s natural and sensible to portray the Council on Foreign Relations and its flagship journal Foreign Affairs as charter members of the cheap labor/Open Borders/lobby.
So it’s a welcome shock to report that the magazine has just published an article that should bust apart for good the strange bedfellows political juggernaut that still threatens to push pro-amnesty-style immigration reform through Congress.
Nothing in the article would logically stop Big Business from pushing to loosen U.S. immigration policy further and thus pump up the country’s labor supply and drive wages down even lower. (They’ve been falling during the recovery in real terms in the private sector.) But the new piece by University of California-Davis economist Gregory Clark should prompt big second thoughts about immigration reform among labor unions and its other liberal backers – unless they’re no longer first and foremost concerned with the well-being of the existing American workforce.
For Clark has spotlighted a massive irony that I’ve tweeted about, but that left-of-center immigration reformers have refused to acknowledge: The same obstacles that they have long complained keep hindering social mobility and widening the rich-poor gap in America also mock their stated expectations that a flood of newcomers and legalized illegals will boost the economy because of their huge unleashed earnings power and potential.
The idea that immigration reform will expand the population of “makers” rather than “takers” has long been central to the liberal case for immigration reform. In the words of President Obama, “when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. …But over time, as they went about their daily lives, as they earned a living, as they raised a family, as they built a community, as their kids went to school here, they did their part to build a nation….And that’s still true today.”
Much Mainstream Media coverage of immigration issues and flows strongly agrees. Take this 2006 article from the doctrinaire laissez-faire Economist: “The worry [of immigration policy critics] that America is importing a new Hispanic underclass, as some claim, is also probably unfounded. Granted, foreign-born Hispanics are less educated and earn less than the average American. But that is hardly surprising, given that so many were until recently Mexican peasants. What matters is whether they are socially mobile, and it seems that they are.”
Indeed, according to the magazine, “First-generation male Mexican immigrants earn only half as much as white men. But the second generation have overtaken black men and earn three-quarters as much as whites.”
Clark’s Foreign Affairs article exposes why such contentions represent inexcusable hopium – especially given that even long before they idolized French economist Thomas Piketty’s new book, such progressives vigorously insisted that growing inequality is baked into modern American and other forms of capitalism.
As Clark makes clear, especially because low-wage and low-skill Mexicans and other Latinos dominate U.S. illegal immigration flows and populations, “there can be no doubt that immigration is widening social inequality in the United States” – and will continue to do so for the indefinite future. Clark even debunks the assumption that better, more generous public policies will ensure the illegal and other Latino immigrant economic success that could validate current reform efforts.
Clark’s related conclusion seems too pessimistic for me – that “the American Dream was always an illusion” for immigrants because the success of newcomers and their descendents stemmed from the high skill and education levels the first generation brought to the nation to begin with. For example, is it really true for the most part that “The Jews of the Russian Empire were certainly poor, but they were an educated elite within their home societies”? The success they and subsequent generations of late-19th and early 20th century immigrants achieved seems more the result of the genuinely greater opportunities offered by the U.S. economy of those and succeeding years.
But given the widening inequality broadly recognized more recently, his warning about the consequences of reform efforts in current circumstances sounds spot on: “Blindly pursuing that [American dream meme] will only lead to a future with dire social challenges.” Will liberal immigration reformers be intellectually honest enough to recognize that he’s right?