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Let’s shift gears for the moment and refocus RealityChek’s spotlight on immigration – an issue that’s receded from the headlines, but that’s sure to come back loudly once the race for the Republican presidential nomination kicks into high gear. Just as important, the Open Borders camp seem to be getting bolder and bolder in calling for virtually unrestricted immigration.

Just within the last month, major articles have appeared in The New York Times and The Economist arguing that, at least from a purely economic standpoint, unlimited, or at least exponentially increased immigration into developed countries like the United States would promote major national improvements in worldwide and national growth and productivity rates, and in living standards.

The reasons are generally the same as those cited on behalf of unfettered free trade. That is, such Open Borders policies would result in a shift of global resources (in this case, people) to where they could be most efficiently deployed. There’s no need to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder if two high profile unveilings of views that even enthusiastic immigration reformers don’t dare embrace signal the start of a campaign to portray current legislative proposals as reasonable and moderate by comparison.

The problems with such claims only start with the reality that several decades of greatly liberalized global trade and investment have resulted in the biggest winner being not a free market economy (i.e., one whose efficiency advantages were supposed to position it for the greatest gains), but an overwhelmingly communist economy – China’s.

Of course, the immediate objection will be that many global trade barriers remain in place, and so the experiment isn’t close to complete. But the growth of international trade and investment has been explosive for most of this period – till the financial crisis struck. Surely the results shouldn’t have been exactly the opposite of what the theory predicted. Moreover, such Romes are never built in a day, and a completely economically integrated world is obviously a pipe dream for the foreseeable future – and long beyond. So in terms of relevance to policymakers, what we’ve seen regarding trade so far is pretty much what we’re going to get, and it’s waving a big red flag in front of the Open Borders crowd.

But examine these new Open Borders calls on their own terms, and they look even weaker. I’ll just raise two big and related (economic) objections for now. (Obviously, huge national security problems would emerge as well, but they’re for a different post!) First, if America’s doors swung wide open, the vast majority of newcomers (and their numbers would be gargantuan) wouldn’t be folks equipped with skills or knowledge capable of enriching the country on net any time soon.

Those capable of working would be like the vast majority of illegal immigrants that have already been flooding into the country for decades – suited only for very low-skill, poorly paying jobs, and poised to strain public services whenever the economy slumped. But potential workers wouldn’t dominate the newcomers’ ranks by a long shot. For as the nation’s experience with legal immigration makes clear, the chain migration effect would kick in immediately, as dependents ranging from aged relatives to children would come pouring in.

Which brings us to the second problem I’ll deal with. The Open Borders crowd insists that the oceans of mainly young workers and especially the immigrant children America would receive can be made highly productive once they’re educated and otherwise assimilated. What’s overlooked, however, is America’s persistent recent failures in fostering social mobility. According to an academic study that’s garnered enthusiastic praise, upward mobility in the United States has remained virtually unchanged for more than half a century. And that level isn’t very high. Measured as the odds of a child with parents in the poorest 20 percent of Americans becoming part of the wealthiest 20 percent, the latest data tells us it’s only nine percent.

Revealingly, this half-century period covers periods both when the rich-poor gap has been relatively narrow (as in the 1950s and 1960s), and when it’s been a good deal wider (since then). How good, moreover, do you think this performance will be with a much greater share of the nation’s population consisting of individuals whose impoverished lives had been unimaginable to even America’s own poorest.

It’s easy to understand why nearly all academic economists hold Open Borders beliefs. The most cynical among you will observe that their jobs won’t be at stake. Others will note their longstanding preoccupation with theories rather than empirical realities. But why do so many avowed progressives favor immigration reform proposals that would super-charge America’s foreign-born population, and even buy into this purist economic case, despite constantly complaining about the lack of opportunity in the United States that exposes the latter as dangerous hogwash, and that is likeliest to drag down low-income citizens and others already living here without enabling the newest arrivals to dream the American Dream realistically?

Many conservatives contend that progressives are hoping to expand greatly the voting population dependent on government benefits and wealth redistribution – and thus certain to vote Democratic. I suspect it’s something that I personally find even more disturbing: a sense of guilt, over third world poverty, run truly wild.

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