How do politicians on the Left side of the political spectrum reconcile the need to protect workers with the support for immigration?

  • As far as I understand, politicians on the Left side of the spectrum generally support increased welfare, strong regulation for workers rights, high minimum wage, etc. At the same time, many Left-wing politicians support increased immigration - both through the visa system and through asylum claims. However it seems obvious that increased immigration (especially when it's not highly qualified) reduces the median wage for the poorest workers, makes it easier for employers to abuse their employees, increases the number of people on welfare, etc.

    So how are the two views reconciled? I could understand a Right-wing politician supporting increased immigration since it directly benefits the local companies, but it seems completely self-contradicting for the Left-wing point of view.

    Your assertion that left wing politics supports immigration could use some examination or supporting evidence, IMO. As a North American who's lived about half of his life in each of North America's countries, that's not been my experience. A couple interesting data points on that score would be that the last immigrant amnesty in the US was under Reagan, and that Obama saw more deportations under his watch than any other president... and then there's the issue of protecting the welfare state from foreign moochers...

    "However it seems obvious that increased immigration (especially when it's not highly qualified) reduces the median wage for the poorest workers, makes it easier for employers to abuse their employees, increases the number of people on welfare, etc." References please? Otherwise this question is based on an unsupported assertion. I have seen both arguments that immigration reduces average or lower decile wages, and those that it increases them. This does not seem at all obvious...

    Most migrants *are* workers. Is the question missing some uses of words like *citizen* or *locally born*?

    You seem to have conflated minimum and median wage and your premise is mostly nullified by that error.

    Migrants came in search of jobs and will gather onde jobs are abundant. Also not all migrants are low-skilled ones, some are medical doctors, engineers.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    If you're interested in a scenario of protecting workers and having conditions on immigration, check out the Australian Labor Party's support of the White Australia Policy when Australia federated in 1901.

    @AndrewGrimm You can restrict immigration without being racist

    There are certain things that economics understands perfectly well. Here are two of them: The number of jobs in an economy is decided by monetary and fiscal policy and regulatory environment. It is not affected by immigration, automation, or trade. The median wage in an economy is decided by average productivity (which, interestingly, is *increased* by automation). As such, we do not need governments to do anything to protect either wages or jobs from immigrants. And assuming a free(ish) market with no monopsonies or cartels we don't need governments to protect wages from employers either.

    A banker, a worker, and an immigrant are sitting at a table with 20 cookies. The banker takes 19 cookies and warns the worker: “Watch out, the immigrant is going to take your cookie away.”

    @SVilcans - you forgot to mention that the banker paid for 40 cookies, and invited the worker for a free one after 20 were taken by government.

    @Vality You might be interested in my answer, where I provide some reasons for why measuring these things are tricky. Many studies that find **no** employment effects have one of the fundamental flaws I list. I also provide one recent study that does provide the evidence you are looking for.

    What peter said. These aren't mutually exclusive concepts. Immigrants *are* workers. Whether they are immigrants or native born, those supporting workers rights would support both of their rights as workers.

    Your "obvious" premise needs another look. Particularly, you might ask yourself why you think immigrants are particularly likely to drive down wages, and you might ask whether the very fact that they are not able to work legally or avail themselves of legal or police protection has anything to do with their effect on wages.

    @JonathanReez Yes, it is possible for immigration restrictions to be implemented without racist intent or implementation. However, there is no current proposal for immigration restrictions whose rationales are not implicitly racist ("they're coming to take your jobs and rape your women") and whose implementations are not explicitly racist (or do you think that restricting immigration based on language skills and country of origin is race-neutral?)

    @JonKiparsky the answer is meritocracy. You create a unified skills test (perhaps something like Australia's points system) and then pick the top 5% of the applicants from each year.

    @JonathanReez Australia is not a great example to pick if you're looking to avoid charges of racism. Setting that aside, the problem is that tests of this sort are typically (some would say unavoidably) biased. (this still leaves the question of rationale unaddressed - and clearly this has been a problem for the current US regime)

    @JonathanReez The details of the immigration mechanism are a secondary concern. Most countries now have overtly non-racist selection criteria, that's true for Western Europe, Australia, Canada, etc. But there is quite a bit of racism in the original impetus to restrict immigration further or treat it as a significant problem.

    Also, which is it: Does it increase pressure on wages or increase the number of people on welfare? Either the newcomers work or they don't (at the same rate than current residents). It can't be both at the same time, except in the trivial sense that it increases the population, which is not a big problem *per se*, especially in a full employment situation. The accepted answer covers all this but the fact is that your “obvious” consequences are not obvious at all, which is why I downvoted the question.

    @Relaxed of course it's possible to have both at the same time. E.g. in the UK Polish people decrease wages in the lowest paid sectors and refugees increase the number of people on welfare. Different groups will have a different effect on the economy.

    @JonathanReez Yes, but not in the aggregate: Taking your example at face value for argument's sake, those Polish people pay into the welfare system so it's a wash (in actual fact, the evidence shows that on balance immigrants – including refugees – work and contribute more than residents so welfare is a complete non-issue; distributional effects are more complex but not nearly as straightforwardly linked to immigration as it might seem).

    @Relaxed people on minimum wage barely contribute anything to the welfare system. They might be balanced out by high earning immigrants, but that means you could easily restrict their movement without much harm to the economy.

    @JonathanReez That's… not true. Even if they fall in the lowest bracket for income taxes, migrant workers pay mandatory contributions to the welfare system, VAT, etc. But really the point is that it becomes a complex empirical question, you can't assume migrants are both disproportionately likely to work and not to work at the same time or that the effect is “obvious”. And like I said, the reality in the British case is that migrants as a group are net contributors to the welfare system and the NHS, which shows that this line of thinking is failing you.

    And no you can't easily restrict movement without harming the economy. Regulations are relatively blunt tools and even the delay introduced by the procedures to get a visa induce significant costs, when you recruit someone you don't need them in six months from now.

    @Relaxed minimum wage, restrictions on employment hours, strong employee rights, etc, are also a strain on every business. But that's a core part of Leftist/Socialist policies. My question is mostly about the perspective of the "workers" - factory employees, truck drivers, farm workers, etc. I don't see a reason for them to support low skilled immigration.

  • FooBar

    FooBar Correct answer

    5 years ago

    Empirical Measurement: Is there competition between migrants and local workers?

    Distributional effects

    Economic theory predicts that similar type of workers are competing with each other, but different type of workers can be complementary. A low-skilled/blue-collar worker needs a manager to be more productive, and a researcher needs a manufacturer that produces what he comes up with. Therefore, when looking at the impact of immigration on wages and employment, one has to be very careful whose wages and employment one is measuring.

    Perhaps you will say "Yes, but some high-skilled workers such as doctors benefit from having nurses around, another type of job that also is "white collar". These two benefit from each other, so "high-skilled" is not always competition, is it? This is exactly the crux: It is often not sufficient to just group people into two education groups and look at the outcomes: A massive inflow of skilled nurses would hurt local nurses, but benefit other white collar jobs. If you look at average white collar wages, you might not find an effect, but if you trace out the group that is being replaced - nurses, you will see the effect.


    In addition, one needs a random treatment of migrants. To see this, consider two US areas, Detroit and NYC. Given that the former is on a declining path, new migrants will rather go to NYC. Now, if you were to compare unemployment in both Detroit and NYC, you would find that the city with more migrants has lower unemployment! If on the other hand, you had two similar cities and could randomly distribute migrants to either one, you would have better chances at correctly measuring the causal impact.

    Most studies that people cite when arguing that there is no competition have one or both of these drawbacks and are hence not suitable to find a causal effect of migration.

    Borjas and Monras (2017) (see a comment at the end of this) try to deal with both of these issues and they find exactly the aforementioned distributional consequences. For these distributional reasons, you will expect that someone who caters to low-skilled workers will support high-skilled migration, and someone who caters to intellectual elites will support low-skilled migration.

    The migration story outside of economic theory

    So far, this was about what type of immigration you'd want to have, given what voters you want to cater to. Now, onward to migration. Some people believe that there should be free movement, but this is - in my opinion - outside the classical left/right dimensions.

    However, consider Rawls' veil of ignorance: Before being born, you have to choose what kind of institutions you set up for a particular country, say the US. Before being born, you will not even know whether you will be born American or not. You will therefore favor US policies that are as fair/benefitial to all people, both American and not, as far as you can.

    You can make this as a non egoistic argument as well: People on the left spectrum care about all people, local or foreigner. This speaks towards supporting migration.


    Immigration theoretically has distributional consequences, and there is empirical evidence that supports this notion. The same is true with trade: We benefit from cheaper mobile phones, while factories get closed down. The same is true with technology: We are happy that radios were invented, but the piano industry disappeared over the span of perhaps 20 years.

    Everyone might be better off from trade However, the people that gain from migration, benefit more, than the other lose out. In economic terms, there are potential "welfare gains" from migration: When blue collar workers come to the US, white collar wages increase so much that white collar workers could subsidize blue collar workers to the extend that they would not see a reduction of their wages. Or in other words: Everyone is better off.

    However, you have to actually make these policies. You will need to identify which occupations are mostly hit from migration, and increase their benefits or pensions, or support them with retraining. Some people believe that rising their minimum wages would help too, but there is no supporting evidence for that claim and I will leave this for a separate discussion.

    Unfortunately, while people agree that theoretically, everyone could be better off, most countries have missed enacting policies that ensure exactly this.

    The referenced Borjas et al paper is not very convincing either, it has among other a very small sample size as it uses the census which is optimized for state and national level analysis to infer about wage changes in a particular city. But it is still at least as significant as the opposing studies (such as Card (1990) on the same event)

    @KDog I don't understand that comment? Who is they, and in which regard?

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM