The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy

The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy

The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy

The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy


The Economics of Immigration summarizes the best social science studying the actual impact of immigration, which is found to be at odds with popular fears. Greater flows of immigration have the potential to substantially increase world income and reduce extreme poverty. Existing evidence indicates that immigration slightly enhances the wealth of natives born in destination countries while doing little to harm the job prospects or reduce the wages of most of the native-born population. Similarly, although a matter of debate, most credible scholarly estimates of the net fiscal impact of current migration find only small positive or negative impacts. Importantly, current generations of immigrants do not appear to be assimilating more slowly than prior waves. Although the range of debate on the consequences of immigration is much narrower in scholarly circles than in the general public, that does not mean that all social scientists agree on what a desirable immigration policy embodies. The second half of this book contains three chapters, each by asocial scientist who is knowledgeable of the scholarship summarized in the first half of the book, which argue for very different policy immigration policies. One proposes to significantly cut current levels of immigration. Another suggests an auction market for immigration permits. The third proposes open borders. The final chapter surveys the policy opinions of other immigration experts and explores the factors that lead reasonable social scientists to disagree on matters of immigration policy.


Immigration policy is one of the most contentious and emotionally charged public policy issues in America today. Unfortunately, the debate surrounding immigration policy—in Congress, the media, public policy think tanks, and among the general public—is often conducted in ignorance of the enormous amount of academic research in scientific journals investigating almost every aspect of immigration. An appreciation of this academic literature changes the substance of the immigration policy debate, but it does not necessarily dictate a particular policy conclusion.

Economist Henry Simons said, “Economics is primarily useful, both to the student and to the political leader, as a prophylactic against popular fallacies” (Simons 1983). That is the purpose of the first half of this book: to make research from academic economics, and other social sciences, accessible and intelligible to people concerned with immigration policy and, in doing so, to serve as a prophylactic against popular fallacies. Serious debate about what the appropriate immigration policy is for the United States, or other countries, can occur once we move beyond the popular fallacies. That is the purpose of the second half of the book.

The importance of what is at stake, in economic and human terms, is impossible to understate. Hundreds of millions of people are trapped, by accident of birth, in countries with bad governance and dismal living conditions. As Chapter 8 reports, many of them want to move:

Gallup has conducted worldwide polls since 2010 asking adults whether they
would move to another country immediately if allowed. Over 600 million

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