Ben Powell misleads about immigration (Suffolk University, Institute for Humane Studies, Youtube)

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Ben Powell - an economics professor at Boston's Suffolk University - offers the video "Top 3 Myths About Immigration"; how it misleads will be discussed below. First note that the video has the logo of the Institute for Humane Studies, a group linked to the Koch family; the Kochs are one of the major stringpullers of the tea parties movement whether they know it or not. Note also that the video is being promoted by Youtube [1].

1. Throughout the video, Powell simply refers to "immigration" and "immigrants"; he only notes the differences between low-skilled and high-skilled immigration briefly. He never even says the word "illegal", thus ignoring that there's a big difference between illegal immigration and legal immigration even by people with similar skills. Lumping low-skilled immigration together with high-skilled immigration is misleading as has already been discussed here and here and in many other posts. And, illegal immigration is, all other things being equal, much more pernicious than the legal variety: it indicates an erosion of the rule of law and it's an indicator of political corruption (as politicians allow illegal immigration either for monetary or electoral gain). Powell misleads by lumping all types of immigration together.

2. Powell states "immigrants are a net benefit to the economy. Economists who study immigration - even economists who are otherwise critical of immigration - are in almost universal agreement of this. They don't think the net economic benefit is huge, but all agree it's positive". Now, please see the discussion and posts on the immigration economics page. Some studies might show a net fiscal benefit from immigration in general, but no study has ever shown a net overall economic benefit. No immigration study has ever attempted to measure all the indirect fiscal and non-fiscal costs of massive immigration. Powell isn't including in his analysis all the costs of massive immigration. What Powell is doing is akin to promoting saving a few dollars at a store, without revealing that he had to drive a hundred miles to the store.

3. Powell says it's a myth that immigrants "steal our jobs" and that they depress wages. That depends on how you define "our". Massive low-skilled immigration has been a boon for our corrupt elites, giving them great access to low-cost (and more pliable) household workers and greenskeepers. Obviously, higher-skilled immigration hasn't thrown too many people of Powell's class out of work, otherwise we'd have much less higher-skilled immigration. Powell provides a chart [2] showing the civilian labor force against population, claiming to show that high immigration hasn't led to structural unemployment. What Powell ignores is that high immigration - and the other policies promoted by those in the "Profits at any Price" club such as free trade - has played a role in high unemployment among certain groups. For instance, the Labor Force Participation Rate among black youth was around 40% for decades yet it reached a low of 25% in January of this year. That and other statistics are summarized at [3] with more at [4]. Obviously, there are many factors involved in certain groups being unemployed or just not looking for work, but few would dispute that low-skilled illegal aliens are doing jobs that many youths could be doing. Having large numbers of young people - and others - unemployed has a cost to society that Powell is ignoring. He's misleading his viewers on the "steal our jobs" point as well.

4. On a related note, Powell says that immigrant labor is clustered in the high-skilled and low-skilled areas, and complements citizen labor. And, that because of that, "it frees American labor to do things that American labor is better suited to do." That might be called the "Veranda pitch": Americans can sit on their verandas watching imported serfs stoop in the fields. It's fundamentally anti-American, assuming that Americans are too lazy to get their hands dirty. It's also anti-Mexican, assuming that only Mexicans (or those from Central America) are genetically cut out for field work or roofing (see the letter here for a more explicit example). On the high-skilled end, importing large numbers of, for instance, foreign computer programmers would result in U.S. students not learning computer programming (because of all that foreign competition), which would result in other countries becoming computer experts while our research on the topic stalled. That would have a huge cost and would represent a national security issue. And, Powell ignores all the side-effects of that massive immigration, such as massive low-skilled immigration from Mexico giving more power to the far-left and even the Mexican government inside the U.S. Powell misleads on the side-effects of freeing up American labor. And, of course, with millions of Americans unemployed, large numbers of them could be doing jobs that illegal aliens are currently doing.

It'd be demagoguery to pretend that deporting ten million illegal aliens would result in ten million new jobs for Americans; an American wouldn't step in to fill every job currently filled by an illegal alien for various reasons. But it is true that a large number of illegal aliens are taking jobs that could be done by Americans and that stepped-up immigration enforcement would (due in part to unemployment insurance) have both a net financial benefit and an overall benefit to the U.S. (people being unemployed for long periods has a large cost). Videos like Powell's indicate yet again how little loyalty to their fellow citizens libertarians have: with millions of illegal aliens doing jobs that Americans could and should be doing, libertarians call for even more immigration.

Powell ends with: "Whatever your position was on immigration before, if one of these three myths was holding you back, it should push you more on the margin to wanting more open borders, not less". If you believed what Powell told you, and you still believe that he's telling the truth and not trying to mislead you, leave a comment below and I'll provide yet more reasons why Powell is misleading.

[1] The video appeared in the top, "Spotlight" section with two others when I visited Per "YouTube members rate videos they like, and we pluck out some recent, highly-rated videos for consideration in the Spotlight Videos section of the home page as well as the Categories page. In addition, our programming team takes suggestions from users at and is always on the lookout for videos of interest." See Youtube corporate for past instances of them promoting loose borders policies; those policies just coincidentally happen to serve the financial interests of Google corporate.

[2] Table B–35. Civilian population and labor force, 1929–2010

[3] My summaries from statistics at

Labor Force Participation Rate - 20 yrs. & over, White Women
1954: low 30s, 2011: just under 60%

Labor Force Participation Rate - 16-19 yrs., White
fluctuates a bit: around 50 in 1954, close to 60 in the 80s, around 55 in the 90s, and steadily declining since then. It was around 37 at the start of the year.

Labor Force Participation Rate - 20 yrs. & over, Black or African American Men
The earliest data available is from 1972; in 1974 it peaked at around 79% and it's been steadily decreasing since then to around 70 since 2005.

Labor Force Participation Rate - 16-19 yrs., Black or African American
The earliest data available is from 1972; averaged around 40% through much of 70s, 80s, and 90s. The rate has averaged in the low 30% through much of the past decade; in 2011 it fell to around 25%.

UPDATE: I put the BLS's Labor Force Participation Rate charts at that link.

[4] See also and and the entries on the Andrew Sum page.