More immigrants means more cheap labor, which makes finding work even harder for millions of unemployed Americans.
So say Ann Coulter and other conservatives who are beating back against a growing Congressional consensus in favor of looser immigration policy. If we allow more immigrants into the country, they argue, we increase the already-bloated pool of low-skilled laborers competing for a limited number of jobs. The result will be more unemployment among the lower class and, therefore, more people dependent on government handouts for their daily needs.
It’s a strange idea, but it resonates with Americans who are concerned about immigration’s effect on our economy and culture. Contrary to what Coulter and those like her might think, however, there is no “fixed pie” of jobs. Economics is not a zero-sum game. If that were the case, every new birth would mean one less job to go around. The economy would benefit from more early deaths and more people leaving the country. Every new time-saving invention would only mean less work and fewer jobs.
Free market economist Walter Block illustrates this fallacy best:
This objection (that immigration will create or exacerbate unemployment) illustrates nothing so much as economic illiteracy. It assumes that there is only so much work in a nation to be done, and that if immigrants do more of it, there will be just that much left for present occupants. If it were true, any and every technological advance would prove a dire threat to our economy. For example, the pick and shovel, to say nothing of the truck, can do the work of thousands of people, compared to tea spoons, or, better yet, bare fingernails. Are we to rid ourselves of these technological advances in order to improve our economy and combat unemployment?
Of course not. Instead, when the population grows or technological innovation makes some jobs obsolete, demand opens up in new fields and industries that did not exist before. It’s that simple. No one knows what the future will look like, and insisting that more people means less to go around denies the possibility that human beings are capable of overcoming the limits of the present-day, despite thousands of years worth of evidence to the contrary.
Advancing the idea that unemployment is made worse by introducing more laborers into the workforce is dangerous.
Perhaps people like Coulter actually agree that the economy can grow to accommodate more people. Yet, they believe it simply cannot grow fast enough if the number of immigrants were to rapidly rise. But even that finds no evidence in history. In fact, the most rapid period of population growth in American history coincides with some of the nation’s most prosperous times. The 1950s and 60s, for example, saw population growth rates more than twice that seen over the past ten years, while the national economy grew by leaps and bounds.
But the fact that the economy grows to accommodate more people needs no historical proof for verification. As Walter Block showed above, it’s a matter of logical deduction.
Advancing the idea that unemployment is made worse by introducing more willing laborers into the workforce is dangerous. It is inimical to economic growth and encourages more government intervention—an idea conservatives like Coulter claim to oppose. There may be other good arguments against loose immigration policy, but this is not one of them.