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Since Ezra Klein is still young, he has time to learn what a bad idea it is to try being clever on unfamiliar subjects. Nonetheless, as made painfully clear in a new interview with Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the media wunderkind and Vox.com founder would be well advised to learn this lesson sooner rather than later, at least when it comes to how the global economy works.

Evidently trying to be clever, Klein tried to trip up the Vermont Senator by asking him how he could reconcile his avowed democratic socialism – and its presumed concern about global poverty – with his opposition to “sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders….” Added Klein, “It would make a lot of the global poor richer, wouldn’t it?”

Sanders’ response was good. But he could have really humiliated Klein by reminding him that unlimited immigration would not only slash American living standards, but that it would ultimately backfire on developing countries as well. The reason is the same as that which argues, from a global perspective, against dropping all barriers to imports from the third world, and it springs from a reality as unmistakable as it is apparently unknown to Klein: American consumption is the goose that lays the developing countries’ golden eggs. To paraphrase that immortal adage, it’s “where the money is.”

Yet just as the United States ultimately can’t responsibly finance the consumption of enough third world imports to spur developing country progress unless its own economy remains truly healthy, it can’t ultimately provide opportunity for third world immigrants without maintaining genuine prosperity. And as Klein and other chattering class advocates of much freer immigration and trade policies should understand – but clearly don’t – the financial crisis demonstrated the heavy costs for everyone of forgetting this truth.

As I’ve written, thanks in large measure to more than a decade of U.S. job- and wage-killing trade deals focused tightly on developing countries, a critical mass of American workers lost the incomes they needed to support acceptable living standards by living within their means. Rather than change course on trade policy, the bipartisan Washington powers-that-be decided to enable the working and middle classes to at least run in place economically by borrowing, instead of earning. The economic meltdown and Great Recession that inevitably ensued inflicted damage worldwide.

Just as important, the historically feeble recovery that’s followed has claimed its share of third world victims, too. Slower American growth has helped crimp imports from China and the rest of Asia, thus sapping the vigor of these export-dependent countries. (Although, as this recent post shows, this phenomenon is easily exaggerated.)  The continuing U.S. malaise has also undermined employment opportunities for current and prospective immigrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Meanwhile, because many global investors have become more risk averse since the last decade’s bubbles burst, and because Wall Street regulations have (necessarily) tightened up some, much international capital has forsaken developing country market and fled to the safety of the United States.

Do Klein and his ilk really believe that admitting a flood of overwhelmingly low-wage, low-skill immigrants will turn this situation around and help anyone, at least for any serious length of time? The only possible justification is a belief, contrary to the evidence and common sense, that the newcomers could rise up the U.S. income ladder as quickly as previous immigrant cohorts. The same question applies to boosting American imports from developing countries – which other supposed experts have touted as a prime reason for supporting President Obama’s Pacific Rim trade deal. Moreover, as I’ve just reported, import- and offshoring-friendly American trade policies could also start victimizing recent immigrants – and choking off opportunities for their successors.

In a perfect world, of course, inhabitants from poor countries could move to wealthier countries any time they wished, and they and the native-born populations would all live happily ever after. Alternatively, in a perfect world, third world populations could supercharge their incomes by providing their first world counterparts with an indefinitely growing supply of increasingly advanced products. Americans (and in principle, Europeans and Japanese) would all support themselves by finding themselves jobs in the New Economy, or the Newer Economy, or the Sharing Economy, or whatever fantasy economic utopians conjure up. Or maybe central banks could keep trying to shatter ever-soaring records for money-printing,

In that perfect world, however, we wouldn’t need economics, or economics. And we certainly wouldn’t need economic journalists like Ezra Klein.