Saturday, April 15, 2006

Monetary Policy, Not Immigration Policy

The following quote from Paul Craig Roberts (taken from a piece quoted in a comment to this Economist’s View post) typifies a common point of view that I think has got things completely backwards:

“Job growth over the last five years is the weakest on record. The US economy came up more than 7 million jobs short of keeping up with population growth. That's one good reason for controlling immigration. An economy that cannot keep up with population growth should not be boosting population with heavy rates of legal and illegal immigration.”

First of all, many economists believe that the failure of job growth is a supply problem rather than a demand problem. Certainly part of the reason that job growth has not kept up with population growth is that the fraction of the population in their prime working years has declined. And part of the reason is that young people are choosing to delay working in order to become better educated. And part of the reason may be that people (now including men as well as women) are beginning to prefer caring for their own children to working. To the extent that it is a supply problem, the slow job growth could be taken as an argument for increasing rather than decreasing immigration.

Personally, I don’t agree that the main problem is on the supply side. But many at the Fed do think so, and that’s just where the problem is. As long as the Fed believes the labor market is approaching a capacity constraint, reducing immigration can only make things worse.

What would happen if we were to reduce immigration? Some of the businesses that now hire immigrants would have to hire Americans. In itself, that might be a good thing, but the story doesn’t end there. As businesses hire more Americans, the unemployment rate would fall, and the Fed would pursue its tightening policy farther than it currently intends. The Fed’s tightening would result in a weaker economy, which would cause other businesses to lay off Americans. The net effect on employment of Americans would be close to zero (and the direction of the net effect is unclear).

If you want to argue that immigration reduces the real wages of Americans, there is certainly an argument to be made, but I’m not going to get into that here. To argue that immigration is bad because the economy already isn’t creating enough jobs is to misunderstand macroeconomic policy.

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8 Comments:

Blogger JTapp said...

"As businesses hire more Americans, the unemployment rate would fall, and the Fed would pursue its tightening policy farther than it currently intends."

But how does this fly with Monday's article in the WSJ about unemployment now playing a less-important role in the Fed's monetary policy?

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