Date: Monday 17 June, 2013
Location: PG Hub 7, Senate House
Topic: What is wrong with immigration? Immigration economics as a way of thought
Speaker: Grace Chang
About the Speaker: Grace Chang previously attained her BSc (Hons) Economics from the University of Warwick and has continued on in the University to pursue Masters in Economics this academic year. She previously was interested in microeconomic behaviour and her previous work focused largely on Life Satisfaction where she wrote her dissertation on the “Happiness of Working Women”. Later on, she delved heavily into labour economics and settled on immigration as her topic of interest. She is currently writing her dissertation on “The impact of skilled migrants on skilled natives: a study in the US” where she hopes to investigate any displacement effects, if any, and the mobility of natives from the influx of migrants.
The main aim of the talk was to encourage the way of thinking about a typical academic subject in Economics. In this particular case, Grace decided to focus on immigration, a large topic in labour economics that is still under scrutiny by academics and in public debates.
Firstly, it is important to assess the importance of focusing on the issue. Why is it important to still discuss issues on immigration? Besides the various results in academic literature, there are still on-going differences in public policies in countries worldwide today. The issue at hand is why do we see the policies enacted today, why do they vary and how are we to judge it ourselves?
Thus, we see a transformation in perspective over time. Using a rough guideline, she finds that the literature first had the investigation of the pressing issues during that time. The first “headlining” literatures in the 90s are focused largely on mass emigrations onto the respective countries such as seen in Card (1990) and Friedberg (2001). Here, there was a large interest in the substitutability of natives and migrants – that is, if natives and migrants are perfect substitutes, the migrants would displace natives of their jobs, or saturate the labour market to then put downward pressure on native wages and employment.
However, more recent studies then had a transformation in their perspective. Recent work by Hunter and Gauthier-Loiselle (2010) find that educated migrants have positive effects on native workers and on the native economy through increased patenting. So in her perspective, the accumulation if literature today has led to the exhaustion of the popular question of “Is immigration bad?” The bias of each “native” country will always exist and the question will always be asked. However, at least academically, the argument of substitutes and complements may be a weak one. As labour becomes more mobile, it is perhaps more interesting to question: 1) Do migrants add productive value to the native economy? Who are they and how can we encourage their contribution? 2) Do restrictive policies help native workers to better contribute to the economy? 3) How well do migrants (first and second-generation) assimilate into the native country and how can we encourage this?
The idea is to think ahead of the current literature, and to question the old. Perhaps substitutability in labour is not as strong as we assumed it to be such as its comparison to substitutability in goods. Maybe the migration policies enacted today are in such a variety because we have been holding on to such old assumptions that lead us to contrasting results. Thus, the talk concluded as a food for thought about the way we think about an argument, especially when there is always a natural bias to one side.
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