Economics and the Immigration debate: As the storm force winds blew, I wondered to what extent the debates on immigration and austerity shared a common feature. In both cases economists might feel like someone trying to walk against high winds: it is hard, perhaps painful, and you seem to be getting nowhere fast. To be less metaphorical, in both cases the economic arguments seem to be irrelevant to the public debate, and the politicians want to go in the opposite direction to the one suggested by the economics.
I have talked a great deal about austerity before, but not about immigration. A typical example of the economic arguments is this NIESR study by Lisenkova, Mérette and Sanchez-Martinez (pdf, blog post), which models the impact of the current UK government’s attempts to reduce net migration. (As this Bruegel post shows, the UK debate is fairly typical.) Although the paper uses an OLG model, and allows for some quite elaborate differences between migrants and natives, the basic results are intuitive. As migrants tend to be younger, reducing migration reduces GDP per capita (by about 2.5% in 2060), because there are less workers for each pensioner. For this and other reasons, migrants make less demands on the state, so a reduction in migration raises government spending per person (e.g. the elderly use the NHS more) which requires higher tax rates. One interesting result is that although restricting migration raises pre-tax wages (less labour supply), after a time post-tax wages are lower because of the higher tax rate.
In short, migration is beneficial for the economy as a whole, and for households as a whole. For a short summary of other empirical evidence, see this article by Jonathan Portes, or this from the OECD. Yet the political debate presumes the opposite. It is taken as read that migration causes all kinds of harmful effects, and the debate revolves around measures to prevent these. ...
So you see why I think there is a potential parallel with the austerity debate. The evidence suggests that migrants make a net fiscal contribution relative to natives, just as all the evidence suggests that austerity is harmful in a liquidity trap. However the ‘public’ believe otherwise, and (by implication) economists should get real and stop going on about evidence so much.
There is a difference, however. ...
He goes on to explain the difference and why he believes that:
While I find the macroeconomics of austerity interesting (it’s my field), I believe the reasons why the economics is ignored are fairly straightforward and much less interesting. In the case of migration, I think understanding why the economics is ignored is much more of an intellectual challenge.