According to Gallup, only 7 percent of Americans want immigration levels to increase, while 86 percent either want them to remain at current levels (47 percent) or decrease (39 percent). With most current and prospective Republican presidential candidates tripping over each other to vie for that 7 percent, it would seem to be good politics for a candidate to break from the pack and speak for the other 86 percent essentially unopposed. That’s more of less what Scott Walker has done over the past week.
Actually, Walker hasn’t even said that immigration levels should not be increased. He has merely said that, as he put it on Friday, “In terms of how wide or how narrow the door’s open, our No. 1 priority is American workers and American wages….I don’t know how anyone can argue against that.’’
Well, the Wall Street Journal editorial board is doing so, as the Journal criticized Walker in its lead editorial on Saturday. But the Journal’s arguments weren’t up to its usual high standards, which should strengthen Walker’s confidence that he has charted the right course.
For starters, the Journal lamented that Walker has been “listening to Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions” (which is something that a lot more Republicans should do). Writing about “H-1B visas for skilled workers,” the Journal says, “Practically speaking, these visas are the only way U.S. companies can bring foreign talent to work in America.”
The Journal continues,
“The Senator [Sessions] calls claims of a skilled-worker shortage a ‘hoax.’ But the numbers suggest otherwise: The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services announced last week that it received a record 233,000 requests from American business for the 85,000 H-1B visas available.”
But no one disputes that big business, led by Mark Zuckerberg and others, wants access to foreign labor. The question is why. Is it because there is “unmet demand,” as the Journal claims, or because corporations don’t want to pay for American workers if they can pay less for foreign workers? The Journal’s numbers tell us nothing in this regard.
The Journal then praises a group of senators, including Gang of Eight alums Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio, for having “introduced a bill to make it easier to hire high-tech workers.”
A bit later, the Journal asks, “If more people, even people with skills such as those on H-1B visas, are bad for an economy, why is the high-growth state of Texas working overtime to get people from other parts of the country to move there? Under the Walker-Sessions model, shouldn’t that depress wages and take jobs from those already there?”
This is really a reach. The Journal acts as if there’s no difference between having American workers move to a new state and having foreign workers move to the country. Texas’s outreach efforts have particularly courted American businesses, under the reasonable assumption that they help create jobs in the Lone Star State. But do you see Texas working overtime to get people to move north across the Rio Grande? By the Journal’s logic, why isn’t it?
The Journal concludes by invoking an economic straw man worthy of the White House’s current occupant. Accusing Walker of believing in “zero-sum labor economics,” it writes, “Economists call [the Walker-Sessions view] the lump of labor fallacy, which holds that the amount of available work is fixed. If one person gets a job, another loses it.” Of course, almost no one actually holds this view, certainly not Walker (or Sessions). The Journal, however, seems to hold the view that every time a person gets a job, it creates another one.
There is no dispute that immigration increases the size of the economy. The question is whether it increases the economic well-being of the typical American. In this, Walker is asking the right questions and focusing on the right ends.