Saturday, January 12, 2008

The USA: More Immigrants Than Anyone and Yet Still Falling Behind?

The Creative Class Exchange on immigration around the world:

The Economist devotes is special report to global immigration. The chart above shows the key flows. Two other key facts.

1. There are an estimated 200 million global migrants world-wide, 3 percent of the world's population.

2. The USA has the largest number of immigrants, but not the largest percentage. Australia does, followed by Switzerland, Canada, Germany, then the USA, Sweden, Ireland, the UK and France (see below).

Could it be, that without even restricting immigration further, the USA is already falling behind. The whole thing is here.

These statistics are interesting and I highly recommend reading The Economist's special report.

While I am in favor of easier immigration to the US, what I do wonder about is that statement that "the USA is already falling behind." By what measure? That sounds more like an alarmist rhetoric than reasoned commentary.

I would argue that the marginal benefit of an immigrant into a populous country like the US is less than that of an immigrant into a less populous country like Australia. The greater population a country has, the more opportunities there are for specialization within the economy, and a greater depth of the domestic market. The US has about 15 times the population of Australia, giving it huge benefits of economies of scale in the domestic market. That same phenomenon explains why New Zealand's economy hasn't done as well as Australia's despite many pro-market reforms. If the benefit of an additional immigrant is less to one country than to another, how can it be said the one that has a lower benefit is "falling behind"?

What I think is a better argument is that immigration usually benefits both the sending and receiving country:

Despite a growing backlash, the boom in migration has been mostly good for both sending and recipient countries, says Adam Roberts (interviewed here).

Easier immigration would benefit the US economy, the immigrants who are moving here, the citizens of the US, and the families of the immigrants who are still back in their country of origin. As I've written before, immigration may be the most effective form of foreign aid. It has many other virtues as well. For all of these reasons, I am for more open immigration policy in the US. I can even come to that conclusion without worrying about America "falling behind".

Here are all of the articles in The Economist's special report on immigration:

And here are my previous posts on immigration.

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