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Apr 7 / Jonathan

Goods over people?

Josh Bivens argues that those who favor free trade in goods ought to oppose restrictions on immigration.

I’m a professional worrier about the impact of trade on the American income distribution. The optimal response to my worries is to strike grand bargains that compensate American workers for the harm done to them by globalization. The corporate class gets NAFTA, American workers should have gotten universal health care. The corporate class gets membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), American workers should have gotten labor law reform to help willing workers more easily form unions.

Unlike trade, I’m personally not willing to call for immigration restrictions, even in the absence of the optimal response. Why not, if I’m willing to risk professional approbation in the trade debate? First, it’s just a fact that embargoing people at national borders is an inherently uglier business than embargoing goods. Second, immigration offers truly enormous economic benefits to the immigrants themselves. Some argue that tariff-free access to the US market offers huge benefits to workers in developing nations. They’re wrong: the gains (to developing country workers) from immigration dwarf the gains from market access.

To take this further, if one is concerned about the economic prospects of low-wage workers, why not respond to potential distributional problems caused by immigration with trade tariffs? How serious am I about this? Not very. There’s still an ideal response to both – using broader tools to bolster economic security for all Americans. But, the odd deference given to the movement of goods over the movement of people in the global economy remains pretty jarring to me.

(Via MaxSpeak, You Listen!.)

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