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Monday, December 17, 2007

"What's the Difference between Bloggers and Illegal Immigrants?"

Andrew Leonard responds to George Borjas:

What's the difference between bloggers and illegal immigrants?, by Andrew Leonard: Of all the bonafide economists who blog regularly, Harvard's George Borjas gets the award for Most Single-minded Focus. Borjas' issue is immigration, especially illegal immigration. If you're looking for academic support for the thesis that immigration depresses the wages of native-born American workers, he's your man. He's also concerned about the cultural impact of Mexican immigrants (legal or illegal) who he thinks are not as likely to assimilate with mainstream America as has every other previous wave of immigrants to the United States. He's very consistent...

But it's hard to know what to make of one recent entry comparing bloggers to illegal immigrants.

According to Borjas, there is "an important self-serving economic motive at play" when journalists decry the effect of blogging on traditional news-reporting.

It doesn't cost all that much to become a citizen journalist: a computer and your own time is about all it takes for you to start reporting your view of the world to whoever wants to read it.

The laws of supply and demand suggest that the rewards to being a Journalist would drop because anyone can now start reporting news and opinionating a la Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd. It's as if the Journalistic profession has received its own influx of illegal immigrants -- increasing competition, lowering rewards, and creating havoc along the way.

Maybe now the Journalists will learn how those workers affected by immigration have long felt.

A a former freelance writer, reporter, editor and now blogger, I found this passage interesting for a couple of reasons. Journalists -- or at least those journalists who ever competed in the freelance market or interned at a publication for laughable pay -- have always understood the challenge posed by competition from people willing to work for low wages. No one needs a license or accreditation of any kind to be a journalist, and a distressingly large number of people are willing to work for free or close to it. Just the sight of a byline in print (or online) is compensation enough for some. One result of this is that per-word pay rates for freelance journalists have hardly budged over the decades, except for the very top tier of publications.

Even more intriguing, however, are the political implications of Borjas' analogy. I would submit that most journalists who honestly accept what the Internet means for their profession understand that there is no way to go back to the way it was before. The barriers to entry, such as they were, are gone forever. ... Competing successfully in this environment will require being really good at whatever one does -- whether that be blogging, investigative reporting, breaking news reporting, financial analysis or what have you. And even if done well, the financial rewards may indeed be less lucrative than in ages past. ...

To think that one can turn back the tide of competition unleashed by the Net is a lot like thinking that in a globalized world one can ameliorate the wage impact of illegal immigration by building a border fence or by passing laws imposing strict sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants. The work forces of China and India and eastern Europe and of course Mexico have joined the world economy just like bloggers have joined the media universe. ...

[T]o compare bloggers to illegal immigrants is to implicitly acknowledge that fence-building is not going to work... And we know that can't have been Borjas' intention, because his other posts have made abundantly clear that "securing our borders" is his first priority in any discussion of immigration policy.

On the Net, some of us just chuckle at such an idea. Borders? What borders?

    Posted by on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 07:20 PM in Economics, Immigration, Press, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (13)


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