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Nobel Economist Reverses His Support for Migration

via Author Events
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Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton has revised his previous support for high immigration and free trade, recognizing their larger unaccounted costs on ordinary citizens.

While he used to argue that immigration and trade benefits outweighed domestic harms, Deaton now acknowledges prioritizing efficiency over fairness and stability.

“I used to subscribe to the near consensus among economists that immigration to the US was a good thing,” Deaton wrote.

He noted inequality rose as immigration increased post-1965 and that tradeoffs between foreign and domestic workers were underconsidered.

“Longer-term analysis over the past century and a half tells a different story. Inequality was high when America was open [to migration], was much lower when the borders were closed [to migrants], and rose again post Hart-Celler (the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965) as the fraction of foreign-born people rose back to its levels in the Gilded Age,” he said.

“I also no longer defend the idea that the harm done to working Americans by globalization was a reasonable price to pay for global poverty reduction because workers in America are so much better off than the global poor,” he wrote.

“I had also seriously underthought my ethical judgments about trade-offs between domestic and foreign workers. We certainly have a duty to aid those in distress, but we have additional obligations to our fellow citizens that we do not have to others.”

“It has also been plausibly argued that the Great Migration of millions of African Americans from the rural South to the factories in the North would not have happened if factory owners had been able to hire the European migrants they preferred,” Deaton wrote.

Deaton also criticized fellow economists for overemphasizing efficiency and market forces while neglecting power dynamics that influence policymaking.

“Efficiency is important, but we valorize it over other ends,” he wrote.

“When efficiency comes with upward redistribution—frequently though not inevitably—our recommendations become little more than a license for plunder. Keynes wrote that the problem of economics is to reconcile economic efficiency, social justice, and individual liberty. We are good at the first, and the libertarian streak in economics constantly pushes the last, but social justice can be an afterthought.”

“Our emphasis on the virtues of free, competitive markets and exogenous technical change can distract us from the importance of power in setting prices and wages, in choosing the direction of technical change, and in influencing politics to change the rules of the game,” he wrote.

His reevaluation may prompt others to look beyond the immigration advocacy of business interests.

However, it likely won’t impact demands from investors who benefit from more migrant labor, consumers and renters.

Deaton’s work on “Deaths of Despair” helped identify rising mortality among displaced American workers.

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