A Harvard Professor explains the populist revolt against immigration & globalization

Summary: I try to bring readers useful and interesting expert opinion. Here’s a mother lode of insight about immigration — articles by Harvard professor George Borjas. His work is essential reading to understand the rise of populism in the US and Europe (it’s not just racism and xenophobia, as our elites would like you to believe), providing both insights and data-based analysis.

“…low growth, rising inequality, and a lack of jobs have combined with social and geopolitical concerns to fuel the rise of populism and inward-looking forces. The greatest challenge we face today is the risk of the world turning its back on global cooperation – the cooperation which has served us all well.”
— IMF managing director Christine Lagarde speech “Redoubling Our Resolve For Global Development“, 14 July 2016. What does she mean by “us”?


Two articles by George Borjas
(Professor of economics, Harvard). Excerpts from his website.

(1) From “Brexit, Immigration, and the Experts“, 25 June 2016

“Having hung around the expert class my entire adult lifetime, there’s one little secret I have learned that I wish was more widely known. The experts pretend they know a lot–their income and reputation depends on getting others to buy into their pretention. Many of them, in fact, are  so articulate that they can make hour-long speeches about things they know absolutely nothing about. (I will never forget a meeting where a leading older luminary haughtily dismissed all of popular music by claiming that composing and producing a hit song was a trivial exercise that anyone with half a brain could replicate).

“But, in fact, practically all so-called experts know almost nothing outside their very narrow field of expertise. And much of what they know within that narrow field is colored by both self-interest and by the ideological lens through which they view the world. If the experts gain from living in a globalized world (which they do!), then expert evidence will tend to confirm that a globalized world is good.

“Experts know and have told us many times that immigrants do not make anyone worse off. And how do they know that? By buying lock, stock, and barrel into any evidence that points in that direction. By nit-picking apart any evidence that lies outside the narrative. And, as David Frum himself pointed out a few months ago, by engaging in ‘data dredging on an industrial scale’ when an unpleasant result needs to be utterly destroyed.

Three-year moving average of the wages of male, non-Hispanic high school dropouts

Wages in and outside of Miami
Waves of immigrant arrived in 1980 and 1995. From “The Wage Impact of the Marielitos: A Reappraisal“, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, in press.

“The British people, like the American people, know that the experts’ claim that immigration does not make anyone worse off is a lie. Some of us gain, and some of us lose. The people on the ground know that, but the experts continually refuse to see it or admit it. The people also know that man does not live from a larger per-capita GDP alone–although practically all of the economic experts’ advice hinges on whether they believe a particular policy makes the economic pie larger or smaller. As British political scientist James Heartield aptly summarizes…

“‘The vote shows that very few of the experts, the academics, the media, lawyers and politicians have any insight into the will of the people, or even understand the meaning of the words sovereignty and democracy.'”


(2) From “Promises, Promises“, 11 July 2016
………..{about globalization & immigration}

“Many economists are so religiously wedded to their models that it takes an awful long time, and an awful lot of contrary evidence, to shake them from what they learned in graduate school. We are now in the midst of such a reappraisal when it comes to globalization in general, and immigration in particular. …

“The fact is that the lofty promises made by advocates of globalization often fail to materialize. We need look no further than the promises made when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was being debated in the early 1990s. The experts promised that Mexico would become much wealthier and that a wealthier Mexico would send us fewer immigrants.

“…The problem is that the experts who truly believe in the holy grail of globalization often make promises based as much on wishful thinking as on any actual evidence. The Fantasyland world in which they operate is best seen in the context of immigration. The open-border advocates would have us believe that the world would be much wealthier if we could only get rid of those pesky national borders that restrict immigration. That promise is based on the belief that immigrants are an army of robotic workers, who only bring with them their raw labor inputs.

“Yet everyone else knows different -– immigrants are not robotic workers. They are people who bring with them far more than the ability to produce stuff in an assembly line. And the baggage they bring may or may not be so desirable and has economic consequences that could easily offset their productive contribution.

“This is why time has finally caught up with the experts who promise us that globalization and unrestricted immigration will create huge wealth. People can see for themselves what actually happened. …”

George Borjas

(3)  About the author

George Borjas is a Cuban-American labor economist specializing in immigration issues and a professor of economics and social policy at Harvard. See his website, his publications, his books, and his blog.

Of special note is his new paper: “The Wage Impact of the Marielitos: A Reappraisal“, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, in press. Instead of the usual multi-factor modeling to validate corporate-friendly orthodox economic belief, he looks at actual data. Unsurprisingly it shows that increase supply decreases the price of labor (wages). That’s why corporations want mass immigration. I recommend reading his summary.

(4)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about immigration, and especially these…

We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative
Available at Amazon.

Pre-order his latest book (I have): We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. From the publisher — excerpt…

“Borjas pulls back the curtain of political bluster to show that, in the grand scheme, immigration has not affected the average American all that much. But it has created winners and losers. The losers tend to be nonmigrant workers who compete for the same jobs as immigrants. And somebody’s lower wage is somebody else’s higher profit, so those who employ immigrants benefit handsomely. In the end, immigration is mainly just another government redistribution program.

“’I am an immigrant,’” writes Borjas, ‘and yet I do not buy into the notion that immigration is universally beneficial. …But I still feel that it is a good thing to give some of the poor and huddled masses, people who face so many hardships, a chance to experience the incredible opportunities that our exceptional country has to offer.’”

4 thoughts on “A Harvard Professor explains the populist revolt against immigration & globalization”

  1. Thanks for bringing Borjas to my attention. It is always nice to read someone who writes such obvious common-sense. I love the Heartield quotation. Heartield’s “Takem” and “Makem” characterization of Newcastle and Sunderland (think Chicago versus Milwaukee, Akron, Gary, etc) is also very memorable.

  2. Pingback: Immigration and Capital – ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

  3. US is in demographic transition. Boomers are on way to retirement and following generations are smaller and weaker. Who will replace them, let alone serve them in their old age?

    US needs workers at all levels. Unfortunately system’s housing and school segregation ensures new majority will be low skilled. All western countries are aging. But US is in weakest position as most common age of white Americans is 58 in 2018 (according to Jed Kolko who looked at Census data). Please note low wage immigrant workers are concentrated in certain states.

    Meanwhile: “While Trump Blames Immigrants For Low Wages, An Alternative Theory Gains Traction Among Economists

    I also suggest reading “Profits Without Production” by Seymour Melman that was published in 1983. Review: Two Reviews of Seymour Melman: “Profits without Production.” And keep in mind:

    “In fact deterioration in the production competence of U.S. industries had been well under way since 1960 and was reported in some detail by 1965.” {Source}

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I don’t believe anything in that comment is quite accurate.

      (1) “US needs workers at all levels.”

      True in the trivial sense that without workers the US would be empty. False, in that there are no broad worker shortages. As is seen by the most reliable of indicators: price, the balancer between supply and demand. There are always shortages in some skills. The price of that skill – wages – rises, and the shortage vanishes. Since real wages per hour are flattish over this business cycle, we can see there is no broad surplus. That’s especially so since wages should be rising, as workers get some of America’s rising productivity.

      (2) “as most common age of white Americans is 58 in 2018”

      Racist much? I mean, who cares about that factoid?

      (3) “Boomers are on way to retirement and following generations are smaller and weaker. Who will replace them, let alone serve them in their old age?”

      False, in both senses. First, there is no evidence that younger Americans are “low skilled.” Second, the age distribution of America is quite flat from age 20 to 55. That’s even more so since immigrants tend to be younger, over time boosting the size of younger cohorts. Also – we appear to be starting a new industrial revolution, a wave of automation that will destroy some large fraction of jobs. The next generation will consider this nonsense about worker shortages to be quite mad.

      See this graph showing the age distribution of America.

      (4) “Please note low wage immigrant workers are concentrated in certain states.”

      Duh. Low wage workers are concentrated in States in which there are jobs for them.

      (5) “While Trump Blames Immigrants For Low Wages, An Alternative Theory Gains Traction Among Economists”

      That’s a false dichotomy, a major tool by journalists to construct simple narratives that mislead their readers. The two explanations are overlapping. The struggle by businesses to control labor has been a major story in the US since the late 19th century. Then, as now, the 1% used massive immigration as one of their tools. Cartels, govt regulation, and union-busting are other effective tools used then and now.

      (6) “In fact deterioration in the production competence of U.S. industries had been well under way since 1960 and was reported in some detail by 1965.”

      Bizarrely false. The US trade deficit is an almost inevitable result of the dollar’s overvaluation, recognized since the 1950s as an almost inevitable result of its role as the major reserve currency.

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