Anti-Immigrationists Shoot Themselves In The Foot

H/T Doug Mataconis.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley recently signed into law an Arizona-esque immigration law:

Alabama’s governor has signed what he billed as tough illegal immigration legislation, requiring police to check the status of anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally when stopped for another reason.

The bill, due to take effect on September 1, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley on Thursday.

Its passage makes Alabama the latest in a series of states, including Georgia and Arizona, to enact controversial new laws aimed at tackling illegal immigration.

Proponents have even justified this tough new bill on economic grounds, claiming that it will help unemployment:

One of the legislation’s sponsors, GOP Sen. Scott Beason, said it would help the unemployed by preventing illegal immigrants from getting jobs in the state. Alabama’s unemployment rate stood at 9.3 percent in April, the most recent figure available.

“This will put thousands of Alabamians back in the work force,” Beason said.

The Alabama Business Council has not taken a public stand on the law. In neighboring Georgia, some farmers and business owners warned that a crackdown passed recently in that state would make it more difficult to hire the laborers they rely on — many of whom are illegal immigrants.

Beason’s argument suffers from a few logical fallacies. First, it makes no difference who is unemployed. Let’s imagine that, as a result of this new law, all undocumented immigrants in Alabama are kicked out of the state. Instead of every one of those empty jobs being taken by Alabamians, two-thirds are taken by people from other states who move to Alabama for the new employment opportunities. Is that any worse than every job being taken by an Alabamian? Any better? Of course not, because folks from Alabama are no better or worse than those from Georgia, Arkansas, Alaska, or Hawaii. Nor are people from Mexico, Guatemala, or any Latin American country any better or worse than those from the United States. We are all humans; our place of origin is irrelevant.

Secondly, Beason ignores the economic ramifications of the law. Requiring those employees that formerly employed undocumented immigrants to now pay out more for their labor will result in fewer jobs or, perhaps, no jobs at all. Think I’m crazy? This is precisely what is happening in neighboring Georgia:

After enacting House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia.

It might be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal ordered a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.

The results of that investigation have now been released. According to survey of 230 Georgia farmers conducted by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season, a number that probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey.

The situation is so bad, the governor has actually suggested hiring people on probation:

In response, Deal proposes that farmers try to hire the 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers estimated to live in southwest Georgia. Somehow, I suspect that would not be a partnership made in heaven for either party.

Adam Ozimek explains the basic economics of the situation:

It goes like this. If you’re not going to let illegal immigrants do the jobs they are currently being hired to do, then farmers will have to raise wages to replace them. Since farmers are taking a risk in hiring immigrant workers, you can bet they were getting a significant deal on wage costs relative to “market wages”. I put market wages here in quotations, because it’s quite possible that the wages required to get workers to do the job are so high that it’s no longer profitable for farmers to plant the crops in the first place.

Here the leftward shift in the labor supply curve when moving to a market with immigrants to one without reflects the fact that for any given wage, there are less people willing to do the job. If the supply curve shifts far enough to the left, the equilibrium quantity of labor becomes negative, meaning that farmers will hire zero workers. If workers are needed to run a farm, then zero workers is the same as zero crops, and zero farm. Some labor may be replaced with capital, but in other cases the farms might just shut down.

The irony is fantastic. Once again free trade proves to be superior to labor protectionism.


One thought on “Anti-Immigrationists Shoot Themselves In The Foot

  1. Pingback: Protecting American workers by destroying American jobs « Chris Frashure

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