Rethinking Immigration: It's Always the Economy, Stupid!
James Carville's famous snowclone on how to win an election -- "It's the economy, stupid!"-- has new, very buff legs. With the traditional Labor Day launch of campaign season just six days ago, the American people have already witnessed the fur of political charges and countercharges flying. The 24/7 news cycle and the ocean of tweets, blogs and YouTube videos reveal a viral debate over which of the two parties is most responsible for the lingering frailty of the economy and the blight of persistent joblessness.
Ruling out a fight for another massive stimulus bill, President Obama has opted for small-scale measures to help businesses gain the temerity to hire again. The GOP -- confident of an election landslide ahead -- espouses a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts (subliminally if not overtly concluding that "deficits don't matter").
Meantime, America continues its slide from the economic pinnacle. The World Economic Forum reports that the U.S. is now ranked behind the three S's (Switzerland, Sweden and Singapore) in the WEF's "Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011." And unlike past recessions, IT jobs will not lead the way because these jobs increasingly are moving offshore, as the New York Times reported in a Sept. 6 front-page story:
"There's been this assumption that there's a global hierarchy of work, that all the high-end service work, knowledge work, R.&D. work would stay in U.S., and that all the lower-end work would be transferred to emerging markets," said Hal Salzman, a public policy professor at Rutgers and a senior faculty fellow at Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. "That hierarchy has been upset, to say the least," he said. "More and more of the innovation is coming out of the emerging markets, as part of this bottom-up push."
While politicians debate such vacuous notions as excising birthright citizenship from the 14th Amendment, a few followers of the dismal science are pointing to legal immigration (including a penalty-laden legalization of unauthorized migrants) as the way forward. So writes Slate's James Ledbetter in "Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor. Really. We Mean It. Economists are making the case politicians are afraid to: Immigration is great for the U.S":
Pro-immigration arguments are booming, and reached a zenith this week with the publication of a paper by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, arguing among other things that immigrants, despite popular misconception, do not displace American workers. This has led a number of economic bloggers to make the very rational argument that one of the best things America could do now to fix our sagging economy is to encourage more people to come here and work. According to the econo-blogosphere lately, immigration is a cure-all for America's economic ills.
Ledbetter offers three reasons why immigration promotes prosperity: (1) Immigrants create demand for housing ("[e]xpand the number of [H-1B] visas granted, make them contingent on buying a house, and the newcomers will make a fast and substantial dent in the glutted market"); (2) they can be the necessary replacement workers as Boomers retire (as they contribute vastly more to Social Security than they receive); and (3) they pump the economy.
Our history teaches that immigration brings new ideas and energies and drive. A new book by Richard Herman and Robert L. Smith, Immigrant, Inc.: Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy, explains why it's important for Americans to "Think Like an Immigrant." Immigrants, Herman and Smith note, bring a "culture of entrepreneurship that stems from education, thrift, family loyalty and ambition."
Creative people are complex, meaning that they see the world from multiple perspectives. This is an adaptive response to complex inputs during childhood. We are all constantly trying to make sense of the world we live in and the more complex our experiences, the more challenging this proves to be. This challenge is the key to creativity
Biographically speaking, creative people have a foot in two camps. In the U.S., for example, immigrants are seven times more likely to excel in creative fields compared to individuals whose families have lived here for generations
So as Congress reconvenes this week and prioritizes its short-term, pre-election "To-Do" list, here's hoping it will take another look at immigration, not as every pol's favorite whipping boy, but as the engine of job-creation and renewed economic vitality that it truly is.