This week in Dallas, former president George W. Bush, through his institute, jointly hosted with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas a conference on the 4% Growth Project. Amity Shlaes, director of the project, explained “that immigration has a positive impact on the U.S. economy, immigrants are important contributors to U.S. businesses and that immigration reform is necessary to move the economy toward four percent growth.”
President Bush in opening remarks reminded the attendees:
The 4% Solution is a product, in other words, we don’t just sit around and think. We actually produce results. And here is one of the results: it’s a book written by renowned economists, including Nobel Prize winners. I wrote the introduction – I am not a renowned economist or a Nobel Prize winner. (Laughter.) We believe that our economy can grow at four percent a year with the right tax, energy, trade and regulatory policy. The book includes chapters on the importance of immigrants to economic growth. And that’s what will be discussed today.
Immigrants come with new skills and new ideas. They fill a critical gap in our labor market. They work hard for a chance for a better life. Today our panelists will discuss those contributions in a sober and enlightening way.
Well, it’s about time. Pro-immigration conservatives have been slow to make economic arguments for their position, leaving the field to immigration exclusionists. But in fact, most especially at a time when our birthrate is plunging, immigration remains critical to our economic future.
There is also an ethical and civic aspect to this, of course. As Bush observed, “Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul. Growing up here in Texas, like many in this room, we’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting newly-arrived. . . . I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a naturalization ceremony, but it’s an awesome thing. . . America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. As our nation debates the proper course of action relating to immigration, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants.”
Unfortunately such sentiments are lost on many, and appeals to emotion by their nature are fleeting. It would seem going forward that the hard data on economics, the current system of lawlessness (including the underground economy from which federal income taxes are not paid) and the experience of state governments (Texas, specifically) should form the foundation for a comprehensive case for immigration reform. It is odd that conservatives on the exclusionist side would look upon immigration as a zero sum game (each immigrant takes a job from a non-immigrant, reducing the pie for native-born Americans), rather than looking at immigration (and the labor market as a whole) as part of the effort to grow the pie for all Americans.
There is no more important intellectual challenge for conservatives these days than this issue. For the real solution to our fiscal train wreck is growth. And immigration needs to be part of that equation.