The (overwhelmingly one-sided) Donald Trump-Bernie Sanders-fueled debate on trade policy that’s broken out in the Establishment Media lately has been so heated that it’s eclipsed even immigration as a hot button presidential campaign issue. Not even Trump’s release of crucial details for his illegal immigration-stopping wall has managed to push trade out of the spotlight. It’s almost as if mainstream journalists and the elites they so often coddle have given up on pimping for Open Borders policies as America’s only non-racist, non-xenophobic immigration policy options.
All the same, who can reasonably doubt that pro-amnesty media propaganda will stage a comeback, especially if Trump shows signs of surmounting his current troubles and cruising again toward the Republican nomination? (Democrat Sanders nowadays is far from a maverick on immigration issues.) If immigration returns to the fore again, it will be worth remembering that one of the world’s leading economists has just punched big holes in one of the Open Borders’ backers’ main economic claims.
As noted in a September, 2014 RealityChek post, mass immigration supporters have taken to arguing that major inflows of newcomers are needed in large measure to help America deal with its looming entitlements crisis. The idea is that because the native-born U.S. population is aging so rapidly, and because so many immigrants are so young – and enterprising – their future earnings potential is the nation’s best bet for responsibly financing the immense wave of baby-boomer retirements that’s already begun.
As I also argued in that post, however, although immigrants who come to the country with high levels of skills and education are good candidates to play this essential role, the same cannot possibly hold for most illegal immigrants and many legal newcomers – who come with none of those attributes. For it’s becoming abundantly clear that America is becoming an economy and society with not only record levels of economic inequality, but an increasingly rigid class structure.
That is, the American Dream is far from completely dead, but Americans who are born poor are ever more likely to stay that way. And why should low-skill, poorly educated immigrants be an exception? Ironically, I added, the inequality crisis has become so apparent in large measure because of research from self-styled progressive analysts who favor more or less Open Borders. In addition, it was great to be able to point to a recent article in establishment organ Foreign Affairs that similarly debunked the portrayal of mass immigration as an economy saver.
Now, more reasons to doubt this pro-amnesty meme has just come in from Branko Milanovic, a former senior World Bank economist now with the City University of New York.
In his new book on Global Inequality, Milanovic has documented three major economic and social reasons for thinking that yawning rich poor gaps in the United States are here to stay, but that they will keep growing wider. As Milanovic explained in an interview in New York magazine:
> “the share of total income going to capital compared to labor has been increasing” – and its wealthy Americans who dominate income generated by capital (i.e., the return on investments like property or stocks);
> in a new development, many wealthy Americans are now earning income both from their investments and from their labor – e.g., in very high-paying jobs in finance or technology companies; and
> these economic out-performers are increasingly marrying each other, and thus boosting the odds that both their wealth and their natural gifts will be inherited by their children. Interestingly, according to Milanovic, a major engine of this homogamy is the huge increase in the result of highly educated women.
Milanovic also cites a fourth reason to expect widening U.S. inequality – a political system increasingly of, by, and for the wealthy. In fairness, though, however formidable, this obstacle to a more equitable society seems less intractable than the three economic and social factors.
The author also cites reasons for supposing that America’s rich-poor gap might start narrowing once again. But their impact seems unlikely to predominate any time soon. And given the power of the inequality drivers Milanovic describes, nothing seems likelier to swamp the pro-equality forces if they ever do start gathering than a sizable new wave of impoverished, barely literate immigrants. Not to mention the pressure they themselves will place on the nation’s public purse.