Quoting in entirety the blog post Are Low-Skilled Americans the Master Race? by Bryan Caplan.
Suppose you could give American high school dropouts a 1000% raise by exterminating every man, woman, and child in Latin America. Would that be the right thing to do?
No? Why not? Your answer, hopefully, is that murder is wrong, even if it financially benefits low-skilled Americans. In fact, when you put it that way, it’s hard not to exclaim, “What’s so great about low-skilled Americans? Are they the master race, in whose service any crime is justified?”
OK, suppose you could give American high school dropouts an 8% raise by deporting every man, woman, and child from Latin America back to their home countries. Would that be the right thing to do?
Economists are used to rolling their eyes when people object to better policies on the grounds that some special interest will suffer from the change. It’s time to cross the final frontier, and start rolling our eyes when the special interest is low-skilled Americans.
Call me a Non-Bleeding Heart Libertarian, but for once, the shoe doesn’t fit. My heart does bleed for people born in poor countries who come here to better their condition with hard work. What about low-skilled Americans? They were born in the U.S. and speak fluent English. Let them count their blessings.
Caplan has subsequently expanded these thoughts in his blog post Rector, Poverty, and Immigration:
1. The vast majority of America’s “poor” are rich by world and historic standards. 82% of poor American adults say they were never hungry during the last year because they couldn’t afford food; 96% of poor American parents say their children never went hungry because they couldn’t afford food. Half of poor Americans live in a single-family home, and 41% own their own home. Poor Americans have 60% more living space than the average European. 82% of poor Americans have air conditioning. 64% have cable or satellite t.v. 40% own a dishwasher. 34% have a t.v. than would have made billionaires drool in 1990. Materially speaking, poor Americans are doing just fine.
2. Most poor American adults could have avoided their situation with prudent behavior – especially by delaying childbearing until they marry. 71% of poor families with children are headed by single parents. About 80% of all long-term poverty occurs in single-parent homes. Married high school dropouts have lower poverty rates than single parents with one or two years of college. Most unmarried fathers earn enough to keep their kids out of poverty
If you combine Rector’s evidence with common-sense moral beliefs about the deserving poor, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that few “poor” Americans qualify. The moral admonition to “help the deserving poor” asks us come to the aid of people who are (a) genuinely destitute, even though (b) they took reasonable measures to avoid destitution. Rector shows that few Americans qualify on either count. Most “poor” Americans enjoy a long list of luxuries – and most would be even richer if they (or their parents) chose to delay childbearing until after marriage using cheap, effective contraception.
In stark contrast, most illegal immigrants come from the Third World. Unlike so-called “poor” Americans, illegal immigrants have endured years of bitter destitution in their home countries. Unlike so-called “poor” Americans, most people in the Third World remain extremely poor even if they work hard, delay childbearing until marriage, stay sober, and so forth. Breaking our immigration laws to seek work in the First World is one of the few ways for the global poor to quickly and reliably escape poverty.