Thomas Sowell: There's lots of bad economic thinking in the immigration debate
One of my most vivid memories of the late Armen Alchian, an internationally renowned economist at UCLA, involved a lunch at which one of the younger members of the economics department got up to go get some more coffee. Being a considerate sort, the young man asked, "Does anyone else need more coffee?"
A recent editorial on immigration in the Wall Street Journal brought back the memory of Alchian's response, when I read the editorial's statement about "the needs of an industry in which labor shortages can run as high as 20 percent" — namely agriculture.
You might think that we all obviously need food to live. But however urgent it may be to have some food, nevertheless beyond some point food becomes not only unnecessary but even counterproductive and dangerous. Widespread obesity among Americans shows that many have already gone too far with food.
What are called "jobs that Americans will not do" are in fact jobs at which not enough Americans will work at the current wage rate that some employers are offering. This is not an uncommon situation. That is why labor "shortages" lead to higher wage rates. A "shortage" is no more quantifiable than a "need," when you ignore prices, which are crucial in a market economy. To discuss "need" and "shortage" while ignoring prices — in this case, wages — is especially remarkable in a usually market-savvy publication like the Wall Street Journal.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is www.tsowell.com.
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