How to Make America Greater: Allow More Immigration

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A rally at Battery Park on Jan 29 protested President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration to the United States. (photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times)

President Trump will make America smaller.

By Eduardo Porter / The New York Times
February 7, 2017


Few things would make the economic pie bigger than free flows of people from poor countries to rich ones. Immigration — not trade liberalization or the elimination of barriers to capital flows — offers the best shot at raising the incomes of the poor and increasing economic output around the world.


He may not be thinking in these terms. But as he barrels ahead with his promise to restrict immigration — barring people from some Muslim-majority countries, limiting work visas, expelling millions who are here illegally — the president might want to ponder how this fits the theme of making America “great again.”

For his plan, at the scale he promises, would shrink the American economy and impoverish the world. If greatness is what he pursues, a straightforward way to bulk up the economy — not to say bolster global growth — would be to allow many more immigrants in.

Consider the report on immigration released last fall by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. It concluded that immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2010, both legal and illegal, produced net benefits worth $50 billion a year to the native population.

This might seem insignificant in an $18 trillion economy. But it packs more than meets the eye. It is more than the government’s estimate of what the country would have gained from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the grand deal with 11 other countries around the Pacific Rim negotiated over eight years by the Obama administration but abandoned by Mr. Trump.

The number does not consider many likely benefits from immigration. For instance, immigrants are younger. They are slowing the aging of the work force. Low-skilled immigrants may increase the labor supply of high-skilled natives, say, by providing cheap child care and releasing mothers to work. High-skilled immigrants contribute disproportionately to innovation, seeking patents at a higher rate than natives.

Notably, the number does not include the economic rewards that accrue to the immigrants themselves: 26 million foreigners in the American labor market added some $2 trillion to the American economy last year, according to the National Academies report.

Mr. Trump has not shown much interest in the well-being of people born outside the nation’s borders. But even in the narrowest, most parochial sense, their income contributes to the nation’s greatness. As Mr. Trump maneuvers to face off with China, he might stop to consider what the rivalry would look like if the United States were $2 trillion smaller.

This is a challenge for not only Mr. Trump but also the entire crop of xenophobic, nativist leaders emerging all over the industrialized world: Few things would make the economic pie bigger than free flows of people from poor countries to rich ones. Immigration — not trade liberalization or the elimination of barriers to capital flows — offers the best shot at raising the incomes of the poor and increasing economic output around the world.

[Read the full article here . . . ]

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