American Immigration Policy, a Reappraisal

By William S. Bernard; Carolyn Zeleny et al. | Go to book overview

3
Economic Effects of Immigration I

In an effort to reach a conclusion as to whether immigration should be further reduced, maintained at the same level, or increased somewhat this chapter presents data relevant to the relation between immigration and economics, with emphasis on more recent evidence. It also undertakes a critique of some of the theories and arguments which have been advanced by the more extreme opponents of immigration as to its economic effects on the receiving country and the numerous economic fallacies which have developed in popular thinking on the subject.

The huge population movement of thirty-eight million persons from Europe to the United States in the hundred years from 1820 to the early decades of the twentieth century was an economic phenomenon of the greatest significance. This redistribution of population was regarded as valuable from the economic viewpoint. The liberal philosophy of the nineteenth century taught that freedom of migration was an economically rational process. This belief in individual freedom of movement was directly related to the doctrine of free trade which dominated economic thinking during much of the period of large immigration to the United States. Men, like goods, it was held, should be allowed to go where they were in greatest demand and would be of the greatest value, without the imposition of legal restrictions or governmental barriers. It seemed a truism that adults who had been nurtured in their native lands and in their maturity offered their labor and skills to the lands to which they emigrated were economic assets to the countries of their adoption.

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