Yglesias's Reasonably Strong Case for Way More Immigration
By David Henderson
As a long-time advocate of expanded immigration, I am delighted to have left/liberal Matthew Yglesias as an ally. Yglesias, who helped found online magazine Vox, is one of the rising stars in journalism and, especially, economic journalism. His latest book, One Billion Americans, advocates what the title says: we should change institutions so that we have 1 billion Americans. This book is particularly needed now. Yglesias’s major argument for more population, though, is not mine: he wants the United States to continue to be the world’s dominant power and worries that if we do not greatly expand our population, China will dominate.
In making this case, he advocates changing several government policies beyond immigration. In fact, he writes much more about those policy changes than he does about changing immigration policy. So, for example, we learn more about his proposals for government-funded childcare, housing, and transportation policy than we do about how many new people and what kinds of people he wants to let into the country each year. He does say he does not want open borders, but he does not say what immigration reform he wants instead.
On the non-immigration issues, he vacillates between intolerance of other people’s choices and great tolerance: he is intolerant of voluntary contracts between employers and employees that do not include paid parental leave, but he is highly tolerant of people’s decisions about what kinds of dwellings to live in. Where he is tolerant, he makes a good case. Where he is not, the book fails. Still, the big picture he paints is good: he shows that we can relatively easily triple the U.S. population without making our country too crowded or overly stressing most of our institutions.
These are the opening three paragraphs of David R. Henderson, “A Reasonably Strong Case for Way More Immigration,” my review of Matt Yglesias, One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, 2020.
Yglesias points out that in 2018, the U.S. fertility rate fell to an all-time low of 1.72 births over the lifetime of the average woman. He argues, probably correctly, that an important factor causing women to have fewer children is the increasing cost of raising them. Whether the primary caretaker is a woman or a man, the persistent growth in real wages is raising the opportunity cost of rearing children. The law of demand rears its ugly head: when the price of something rises, then, all else equal, people buy less of it.
In a book that advocates massive increases in immigration, a natural next step to take would be to argue for reducing the cost of child rearing by allowing millions of immigrants, probably disproportionately women, into the United States from the poorest countries in Latin America, such as Guatemala and El Salvador, the poorest countries in Africa, such as Zimbabwe and the Congo, and the poorest countries in Asia, such as India. It would not be hard to get 50 million immigrants from those places in a period of, say, five years. They would benefit and many current U.S. families would benefit from a dramatic fall in the cost of childcare.
But that is not where Yglesias goes. Instead, he advocates massive new government programs to subsidize the provision of childcare. He writes that “the United States has been shamefully slow compared with some peer countries to provide subsidized child care.” But the closest he comes to explaining why U.S. policy is shameful is to argue that because other countries are doing it, we should too.
Read the whole thing.