Does Studying Economics Make You More Hostile to Immigration?
By David Henderson
Surprisingly, yes, at least for this group of U Mass Amherst students.
We find no discernible effect of studying economics (whatever the course content) on self-interest or beliefs about others’ self-interest. Results on policy preferences also point to little effect, except that economics may make students somewhat less opposed to highly restrictive immigration policies.
This is from the abstract of Daniele Girard, Sai Madhurika Mamunuru, Simon D. Halliday, and Samuel Bowles, “Does economics make you selfish?”
Notice that I’m not focusing on the authors’ main findings, which have to do with the students’ behavior in various economic games. Instead, I’m focusing on the effect of taking economics on students’ positions on economic policy.
Here is the particular statement about immigration that students were asked to respond to:
Immigrants from other countries should be prohibited except where it can be shown that they will contribute to the quality of life of the current resident population.
I’m focusing this way for two reasons. First, I find the issue of the effect on students’ policy positions more interesting. And in this case, unfortunately, depressing. Second, some of the ways the authors test the effect of taking economics on students’ generosity are flawed in a way that Steven Landsburg has pointed out (and also here): you can’t measure people’s generosity by their willingness to give away other people’s money.