In my post yesterday on the co-author of the controversial Heritage Foundation study, I noted Jason Richwine’s dissertation adviser was George Borjas, a well-known opponent of immigration (not just illegal immigration but all immigration).
In 2006 the New York Times ran a detailed piece on Borjas and his many critics, which is worth reading in full. His view — that ”more job seekers from abroad mean fewer opportunities, or lower wages, for native workers — is one of the most controversial ideas in labor economics,” the Times reported. It continued:
You can find economists to substantiate the position of either chamber, but the consensus of most is that, on balance, immigration is good for the country. Immigrants provide scarce labor, which lowers prices in much the same way global trade does. And overall, the newcomers modestly raise Americans’ per capita income. But the impact is unevenly distributed; people with means pay less for taxi rides and household help while the less-affluent command lower wages and probably pay more for rent.
The debate among economists is whether low-income workers are hurt a lot or just a little — and over what the answer implies for U.S. policy. If you believe Borjas, the answer is troubling. A policy designed with only Americans’ economic well-being in mind would admit far fewer Mexicans, who now account for about 3 in 10 immigrants. Borjas, who emigrated from Cuba in 1962, when he was 12 (and not long after soldiers burst into his family’s home and ordered them at gunpoint to stand against a wall), has asserted that the issue, indeed, is “Whom should the United States let in?”
Such a bald approach carries an overtone of the ethnic selectivity that was a staple of the immigration debates a century ago. It makes many of Borjas’s colleagues uncomfortable, and it is one reason that the debate is so charged.
Just how charged, I found out this morning. I received the following e-mail attack from Borjas, who, keep in mind, is a Harvard professor:
Someone copied me on an email that contained your column trashing Jason Richwine’s dissertation work, and along the way you decided to trash me as well. Just for your info, the dissertation committee was formed of Richard Zeckhauser (who, by the way, was the chair of the committee), Christopher (Sandy) Jencks, a very influential sociologist whose lifetime work on inequality you may perhaps be familiar with, and myself. Perhaps next time around before you decide to trash anyone who disagrees with your ideological musings you may want to do some background reporting. I know that this request will fall on deaf ears, since it is not part of the modus operandi of people like yourself, but I would hope you correct the record in print. (I actually know you won’t since once the membership of the committee of faculty who advised Jason on his dissertation is well known you can no longer employ the by-association method of character assassination).
I replied: “On the contrary, your email is illuminating and I will do a follow-up. A few more questions: 1) Do Hispanics have lower IQ’s than whites and is there a genetic component; 2) do illegal immigrants now in the country have lower IQ’s than native born Americans; 3) should the U.S. significantly reduce all forms of immigration; 4) rather than legalize those here illegally should they be deported so as to protect native born Americans’ standard of living; and 5) would your conclusion about deporting illegal immigrants be different if they were from Western European countries?”
In several more exchanges he refused to answer my specific questions, saying at one point, “It’s hard to take your questions seriously since you are so unfamiliar with my work.” He even claimed not to have an opinion about the dissertation on which he was an adviser (“not my thesis”). He did direct me to his latest book and to a summary that concludes:
Economists have long known that immigration redistributes income in the receiving society. Although immigration makes the aggregate economy larger, the actual net benefit accruing to natives is small, equal to an estimated two-tenths of 1 percent of GDP. There is little evidence indicating that immigration (legal and/or illegal) creates large net gains for native-born Americans.
Even though the overall net impact on natives is small, this does not mean that the wage losses suffered by some natives or the income gains accruing to other natives are not substantial. Some groups of workers face a great deal of competition from immigrants. These workers are primarily, but by no means exclusively, at the bottom end of the skill distribution, doing low-wage jobs that require modest levels of education. Such workers make up a significant share of the nation’s working poor. The biggest winners from immigration are owners of businesses that employ a lot of immigrant labor and other users of immigrant labor. The other big winners are the immigrants themselves.
Make no mistake: This is the argument against all immigration. It’s a school of thought, as the New York Times noted. But it is also highly controversial and not at all conservative. Conservatives believe people are assets and, through their labors, improve themselves and their countrymen. In fact, conservative economists believe, as do the bulk of labor economists — and the Heritage Foundation itself up through 2006 — that immigration is a net benefit.
Opponents of immigration reform should be honest. If they think immigrants (illegal or not), according to the Borjas-Richwine-Heritage 2013 model, are bad for native Americans, we should round up 11 million people, kick them out and not let any more immigrants in, period. Is that the America they are advocating?
The Hispanic Leadership Network’s (HLN) National Advisory Committee now has piled on, releasing the following statement signed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. treasurer Rosario Marin, Mario Rodriguez, Massey Villarreal, Jovita Carranza and HLN’s executive director, Jennifer S. Korn.
The beliefs espoused by the Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine are ignorant and reflect a lack of understanding of our immigration system and the American immigrant experience. American Hispanics are not a community of low intelligence but rather one of entrepreneurship and upward mobility. This lack of understanding, from the author himself of Heritage’s immigration study, only further discredits their already controversial and flawed findings. This is particularly disappointing because of our respect for the Heritage Foundation and their traditions of high standards, rigorous work, and support for immigration reform. We look forward to the next Heritage study that excludes such obvious biases and flawed starting points.