"In the long-run, we are all dead."
Oftentimes, the most profound ideas in history are the simplest. The aforementioned quote, attributed to John Maynard Keynes in his book, "A Tract on Monetary Reform," sent shocks throughout the world, but not right away. A decade later, “death in the long-run” would be the fear that would motivate activist economic policies such as the New Deal that have defined the welfare state and the social safety net programs of today.
This makes matters all the more confusing when the “New Dealers” of today — members of the Democratic Party and many others on the political left — are so suddenly deeply concerned about long-term economic outcomes. This week, columnists from The Washington Post and The New York Times have prepared and published their cases for the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). These pieces reference a number of academic journals, stating that undocumented workers increase wages and consumption across the country, thus benefiting the economy as a whole.
However, these journals — like most academic publications — are concerned about the aggregate and long-reaching consequences of the DACA legislation. For many poor Americans requiring financial stability, the long-run effects aren’t good enough. It doesn’t matter that productivity has increased, or that an increase in wages for those under DACA protection will result in increased consumer spending, which would increase profit for firms, which would increase economies of scale, which would ( ... eventually) lead to some more jobs. What many low-skilled Americans (to whom we owe a primary obligation as a country) do see, however, is a reduction of their wages and scarcer employment opportunities now.
Some iconic leftist stalwarts realize this too. Although he was quoted yesterday saying that the decision made by President Donald J. Trump to end DACA was “the cruelest and most ugly act in the modern history of this country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hasn’t held a positive view about immigration at large. In fact, he was a part of the political left that would help kill the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007: an act that would extend a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States. After the death of the bill, he said “ ... it makes no sense to me to have an immigration bill which, over a period of years, would bring millions of ‘guest workers’ into this country who are prepared to work for lower wages than American workers … we need to increase wages in this country, not lower them.”
This illustrates a great point: it is simply financially irresponsible to worryingly expand the legal pathways for undocumented workers while simultaneously raising wage baselines and the scope of the welfare state. There is no doubt that immigration — of all kinds — has a positive benefit for native-born workers overall. However, not everyone sees work for immigration as a positive thing. The resulting inequalities can lead to the economic dispossession of many low-skilled American workers. In the long-run we might all be dead, but this doesn’t mean that we should not ignore the scary prognostics. The spirit of this quote, after all, is that we don’t let issues correct themselves, but embrace our conscientiousness and to correct issues as we see them.
Another less obvious impact of the expansion of legal pathways is the flight of human capital from workers’ country of origin. We shouldn’t forget that a number of undocumented workers are arriving from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — countries with extremely high rates of homicide amidst other social and political concerns. Meanwhile, remittances from migrant workers have become an increasingly greater source of foreign income for Mexico. The continued depletion of human capital from these countries only decreases the amount of people that could provide medical, educational and entrepreneurial services. What results is increased emigration to the United States, and the expansion of its welfare state.
To be clear, I am not lampooning the undocumented workers that are receiving protections under DACA, or undocumented workers in general for that matter. The efforts of the diasporic Dreamers among other migrants to work towards citizenship is truly admirable, and the Department of Homeland Security should be continuing to prioritize the deportation of criminals. Nonetheless, the continued influx of undocumented workers into the United States given the current state of the economy raises a number of concerns about the sustainability of our welfare system and the disenfranchisement of the lowest-skilled citizens. Any attempts by Congress in the coming days to reassess the efficacy of DACA, and immigration at large, must address these points.
Nour Abraham is an School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in Mathematics and Economics. His column, "Unconventional Wisdom," runs on alternate Fridays.
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