Borjas at UMBC

October 11th, 2007

The well known Labor Economist visited UMBC last week to give a lecture in our humanities series. Borjas is very well known in political circles for his economic analysis of immigration. More importantly, not only does he write scholarly papers, he actually blogs in a way that folks like me who haven’t even done ECON 101 can understand his points. I haven’t read any of his papers to see what they look like, but in his blogs he is fairly clear about his opinions on various issues related to immigration. See for instance this interesting post about “protectionism” on broadway! I don’t always agree with what he has to say, but it is always a pleasure to read well written posts that say something reasonable backed with some data and analytic rigor.

So I went to the lecture with great anticipation. I reached a few minutes late, and the room was already full. The presentation itself was good, but a bit of a letdown. Perhaps because he didn’t want to be too controversial in a “distinguished lecture” type setting ? He presented data (increase in immigration since 1964, concentration of that immigration in select areas making the effect local, confounding factors when you try to analyze wage effects of immigrants, the fact that the wage depressing effects of immigration have most hurt the lower strata of society, the fact that an average immigrant today earns less than the native born, which is a change from the 60s and so on). However, he didn’t go much further by saying something which is both true and a copout — namely that what policy implications you derive from this data will depend on what your objective function is. He joked about letting everyone in if the goal was to alleviate world poverty or somesuch.

I also noticed that he did not split his data into effects of legal and illegal immigration. It would be interesting to know if there are differences ? Amongst legal immigrants, does employment based versus family based immigration make a difference ? Especially when one of the things that the now dead “comprehensive immigration reform” bill was discussing was a points based system for immigration.