Why are people so weird about immigration? Episode #321

I have upped my immigration griping a lot lately.

Usually I complain about either high skill work visa advocates that would never dream of "picking winners" so blatantly in any other policy arena but for some reason consider it good economics to do it with the labor market - or the "Staple Act" advocates who are like the high skill work visa advocates on steroid - or more recently the absolutely insane claim that liberalization of student visas is somehow low-hanging policy fruit.

Evan Soltas has now joined the ranks of people who utterly confuse me on this. He tweeted:

"Immigration fact of the day: The average likelihood of winning the Green Card Lottery is 0.26%. 50k visas, 14.7m entrants." [he must be rounding or adding by country likelihood because that doesn't quite come out right - DK]

Which I took to be a complaint about how tight the lottery was and a suggestion to expand it (that is certainly how others on twitter took it). That would be yet another weird way to expand immigration, because the lottery is for people from underrepresented countries. In other words, forget the people from Mexico, elsewhere in Central America, India, China, etc.... you know, the people that are traditionally very interested in becoming Americans. Instead toss green cards at populations where demand to migrate has traditionally been weaker.

It's nice, of course. More diversity in the melting pot is always good. But it's really a niche channel.

I'm still not sure if Soltas wants to expand this green card channel, but his readers seemed to.

But then I came across this post of his at Bloomberg, where Evan repeats the same "shortage" of scientists and engineers argument you always hear. Over half a century of thorough economic research has debunked the idea of persistent skilled labor shortages, and pretty standard economic theory suggests it shouldn't be a problem. So why do smart people want to tilt the scales in favor of these types of workers? I don't get it.

It's not shills or novices that have contributed to the literature on skilled labor shortages. I'm talking about George Stigler, David Blank, Kenneth Boulding, Kenneth Arrow, Walter Oi, Burt Barnow, Richard Freeman, and Sherwin Rosen.

Imagine if any other policy area worked the way immigration policy does. Take housing policy. Imagine if the government looked at McMansions out there and decided that clearly since these houses are worth more they are more valuable. (A couple years ago at least) their prices are going up fast - so they're clearly in high demand. What the government needs to do is subsidize these home buyers. They need to make it easier for them to buy a home relative to the boost they give to dinky small home owners or renters.

Oh wait - they have a policy like that already. It's called the mortgage interest deduction and economists think it's a bad idea because:

1. It's not good to pick home ownership as a winner over renting, and
2. If you're going to subsidize home ownership, there's no reason to do it in a regressive way

And yet this is exactly what all kinds of smart people advocate with immigration policy. I don't get it.