The redoubtable Steve Sailer has rallied to the side of renowned immigration economist George Borjas, who, with this post concerning the effects of immigration upon the black community, summoned forth an incogent and spluttering reaction from Bryan Caplan. Caplan, as might be expected from a member-in-good-standing of The Guild, delivers himself of the opinion that Borjas is missing the point of trade specifically, which apparently entails the absolutely free flow of labour, and of economic analysis generally:
There isn't a decent economist alive who would oppose free trade in textiles by pointing out that it hurts American textile workers. But Borjas has made a career out of pointing out that unskilled immigration hurts unskilled natives. (The only surprising thing is how small an effect he finds). A major point of economic reasoning, as far as I'm concerned, is going beyond the obvious losers of trade to all of the less-obvious - but equally human - winners.
Sailer, for his part, having taken up the mantle of sanity in this little contretemps, responds thusly:
Well, Bryan, I guess his problem from your point of view that is that, when it comes to immigration, Dr. Borjas has worked very hard to know what the hell's he's talking about. But who needs painstaking empiricism when Ayn Rand has shown us the true way?
What's striking is the constant reminder of what a large proportion of economists are fervent ideologues who, armed with a selective handful of bumper sticker slogans (e.g., Comparative Advantage! but not externalities), want to preach morality to the unenlightened far more than they want to try to understand reality.
What is curious is the conjunction, within the Guild of professional economists, of an ostensible empiricism, inquiring and tentative, and an incurious and dogmatic form of ideological 'thought', which itself brooks no dissent. Now, it ought to go without saying - though I must declare it, for one can never be too cautious in an age of diminished comprehension - that there are many economists who evince no tendency to vacillate between the poles of rigorous science and dogmatic declamation. Nevertheless, the tendency is sufficiently common to merit comment, and to summon forth interpretive analysis.
Hence, if I might attempt to sound a Saileresque note myself, I would suggest that this tendency expresses the self-interest of economists, over and above the reductionistic tendency of the modern age to locate in self-interest, and self-interest conceived as the calculating aspect of human nature that strives to maximize the satisfaction of earthly desires and preferences (instrumental reason), the very logic of social organization. It is the modern anthropology of affects and desires, mediated in the world by acts of will, that gave rise to the modern doctrines of rights, and integral with those doctrines of rights have been certain assumptions about the centrality of economic processes to the exercise of rights. If anyone should doubt the validity of this statements, let him consult recent discussions on this very forum, which afford the reader a demonstration of the degree of contrariness required to argue that economic considerations ought in certain circumstances be subordinated to moral concerns about economics.
Economists such as Mr. Caplan have not only been steeped in a cultural milieu in which economic efficiency is regarded as a trump, but possess a professional interest in propagating this view selectively, in moments of national controversy. Economists such as Borjas, who examine the many externalities of immigration, are, in reality, arguing not only that immigration imposes quantifiable costs, but that, in effect, and contrary to the airy propagandizing of those like Caplan, all economic policies entail costs and benefits - that there is no "everybody wins" scenario arising from efficiency, free trade, free labour flows, and openness. If there is an expanding pie or a rising tide here, there is a zero-sum process over there. Get over it. That is what scarcity means. It is but a short step from this realization to the recognition of non-economic goods which not only do, but must, influence economic practices. Those like Caplan, however, will resist this line of inquiry and research; if economic matters are always central and decisive, then the high priests are always in demand. The Guild will be secure.