« This just in... | Main | More on immigration (and some of my colleagues) »

May 20, 2007


Raphael Cunha

Dear Professor Rodrik,

In the latest issue of the Journal of Public Policy there's a paper by Paolo Liberati entitled "Trade Openness, Capital Openness and Government Size", which finds that "the compensation hypothesis originally proposed by Rodrik (1998) (...) is not in general supported by the data."

I thought you might want to take a look.



What about including some sort of wage requirements for guest workers? Will employers have to pay them the minimum wage?

Can unions organize the guest workers? It would be a nice thing to see an empowered guest worker return to his or her home country and organize a union their.


has been a Republican mantra, motivated by the thinly disguised impulse to limit the number of workers, Latinos mostly, doing the jobs Americans find most distasteful.

Um, given what limited supply does to prices, why do I feel this is absolutely NOT the Republican motivation.

I am not sure what the canonical liberal argument against a temporary worker program is. I am not saying I am for one, or not a liberal, I just don't know the canonical argument.

I do think temporary has to be temporary as in, absolutely temporary, and a year to two years without possibility of extension.

My concern, and I don't know how realistic it is, is to avoid what apparently has happened in France and elsewhere in Europe where guest workers can apparently stay, and be exploited, for years. It turns thanks for the employment into exploitation, resentment, and class warfare.

Ruben Martinez

Could temporary workers really apply what they have learn during thoese 6 years when they get back home? Are they going to be able to give the best use posible to the savings they made during temorary work? For that to be true I think things have to change in home country as well.


I think we should open our country to unskilled immigration when, and only when, there is so much upwards pressure on wages for the unskilled that it is clear that there is a worker shortage.

We have far too many throwaways as it is: poorly educated, people out of prison, etc. Employers would much rather hire docile non-english speakers who are illegal than people who have been trampled by American capitalism.

Until we get to the point of clear upwards pressure on wages, fierce employer sanctions.

Same thing for H1B.

Only a fool would believe the politicians on this amnesty for 12 million - last time it was amnesty for 3 million, and that was supposed to be the end of it. Fool me once, shame on me: won't get fooled again.

Dan Hirschman

One fundamental problem (in my mind) is a complete lack of discussion about the purpose of immigration policy. Is it a component of development policy and foreign aid? Foreign policy (ala refugees from communist nations)? Domestic economic policy? What do we want the country to look like in 10, 20 or 50 years?
Not only is there no consensus on the above issues, there is very little discussion. Most of the immigration debate takes place in a funny sort of middle ground, battling over details and not ideals.
If you conceptualize migrant workers as a source of new Americans (both themselves and their children), then punitive restrictions seem like a part of class warfare, as the NYT analyzes. If your focus is on development in Latin America, Asia or Africa, then you are asking an entirely different question. Unfortunately, that question is even harder to pose in the modern political era.

So it goes.



I see that the NYT and your readers put Marxist clichés ahead of common sense.

How exactly are immigrants to France, a large portion that live of welfare, “exploited” by the French? If you tax French workers and give the money to Arabs not to work, who is being exploited?

Obviously the same applies to unskilled Hispanic workers today. They do marginal jobs (not particularly productive) jobs that pay little, and thus pay little taxes. Meanwhile they and their kin receive a lot of tax funded welfare programs and social services. The net cost is according to all serious studies quite negative to native Americans.

Again, who is exploiting whom?

The labor market effects of unskilled labor are:

1. Medium sized benefits for middle class and rich Americans (lower price of unskilled labor)

2. Enormous benefits to immigrants

3. Small to medium negative effect for unskilled Americans

The public sector effect through tax financed services and benefits cause:

1. Again huge, H U G E gains for Latinos, in the hundreds of billions of dollars per yea.

2. Equally or larger costs for Americans tax payers, and potential receivers of services and benefits.

No one can for one second deny that the sum of the two effects is benefits for immigrants and costs for both skilled and unskilled Americans. With a temporary program that limits eligibility of the workers and kin to benefits it is at least possible to benefit Latinos and skilled Americans. I honesty can’t see how unskilled Americans could EVER benefit from Hispanic immigration. So who exactly does the NYT represent?

Of course, the actual temporary program that the idiots in the Senate are proposing is not likely to be temporary. It is mainly obfuscation. The workers are allowed to bring their spouse and children. If they “happen” to have children once they come to America the child automatically becomes a citizen, and thus an anchor for the rest of the family. Of course even without this it is unimaginable that congress in 10-15 years would deny these workers amnesty as well, given that they are now giving law breakers amnesty.

Oh well. At least the left can no longer claim with an honest face that they are genuinely driven by concern for poor Americans, rather than ideological dislike for the rich.

Greg Sanders

I'm not particularly worried about guest workers that come and then do actually leave.

My worry is that I tend to associate guest worker programs with Europe and its problem with immigrant assimilation. On the other hand, I'm not sure that temporary guest workers that overstay their visas would be substantially different than any other kind of illegal immigrant. So maybe my fears aren't justified.


A factor in my thinking about the concept of a temporary worker program is the fact that some considerable number of immigrants have always returned to the countries from which they came at every point in our history.

This is neither a good or bad thing, in and of itself. People who come to the United States and later choose to leave have historically done so for all sorts of reasons: family, religion, discrimination here, improvements in the lands of their birth. Many of these reasons are beyond our control or that of our government. What is in our control is the legal status of people who come to work in the United States but do not intend to stay here forever.

I'll reserve judgment on the temporary worker program agreed to by the group of administration officials and Congressional negotiators until I see it in legislative language. But with the concept of a guest worker program I have no problem at all.

Steve Sailer

How many people live in countries with lower average per capita GDP's than Mexico's?

Five billion.

Anmerican immigration policy can't possibly have more than a negligible effect on the average standard of living of those five billion people. What can make them better off is fundamental reform in their own country, as in China after 1978 and India after 1991. However, countries that export a large proportion of their discontented to America, such as Mexico, Philippines, and El Salvador, are notoriously resistant to fundamental reforms at home, in part because America provides a safety valve for the ruling class to bleed off discontent.


"And the temporariness is a good thing, not a bad thing: it allows others to take advantage of the same opportunity, and it enables home countries to benefit from the newly acquired skills and resources of the returnees."

Professor: Why is "temporariness" necessary to allow "others" to take advantage of the opportunities available in the US or other developed countries? I don't understand your point. If, instead of a strictly temporary guest worker program, the US simply decided to hand out, say, 500k non-temporary work permits annually to Mexicans (and allowed them the right to eventually apply for permanent residency) -- if, in other words, the US simply permitted economic migrants to immigrate permanently -- how would this prevent "others" from being able to do so? The fact that the Unites States allowed (say) 125,000 Italians to permanently settle in 1903 didn't prevent another 125,000 Italians from doing so in 1911.

As for **forcing** such people to return, I think it smacks much too mightily of coercion. Yes, I can imagine how the returnees might bring benefits to their home countries, but I can also imagine that many of them, after putting down roots in their new country, would find it most unjust to be forced to return against their wills. I would much prefer we simply pay work permit holders from poor countries to return home. Perhaps such people could be given the choice: they'd have the right to apply for a green card after a successful number of years of residency in the US with a work permit -- but there would be a fairly substantial application fee involved. If they decided to forgo applying for a green card, not only would they not have to pay the application fee, they'd receive a substantial cash incentive (say, $30,000) to return home.


Absorb skill to take home with them by "doing the jobs Americans find most distasteful"? I don't believe Mexico needs more busboys or gardeners or maids.

I also don't think much of the constant reference to "jobs Americans won't do" or its watered-down substitute "jobs Americans find most distasteful." These are jobs that pay little and require little skill. If immigrant labor were not there to bus our tables, the wage would go up. Distasteful? Horesefeathers. These are low wage jobs that would become higher wage jobs in the absence of immigrants. Certainly, there are US citizens who are willing to put up houses and wire them.

Immigration Attorney

The New York Times gets a shocking amount of stuff wrong, one of the main reasons I've stopped reading it.

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why you think that temporary working program is a good choise? you have 15 - 20 % of unemployement and you hair the strainger workers! put your people to work and stop pay the unworking people! if someone don't want to work so let him die! till he goes to work somewhere

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