Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them

Philippe Legrain, Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them. Little Brown, 2006.

The new immigration bill is hot news here in the United States and it looks like, at long last, something may be done. The reform proposals are complicated and not entirely consistent, but they do seem designed to take a system that makes no sense at all and to try to get it to make at least a little bit of economic sense. This is the general direction of reform that Kenneth Dam proposed in The Rules of the Global Game: A New Look at U.S. International Economic Policy, University of Chicago Press, 2001 (see review in my "old reviews" list). That's a small step but an important one.

The fact that immigration reform may be a step in the right direction doesn't mean that it is unopposed: there are plenty of people out there who are afraid of migrants or who want to use the fear of migrants for their own political or economic purposes. So it is important that counterarguments are made. This brings us to Philippe Legrain's fine book on Immigrants, which alas is not yet available in the United States (but you can order it from Amazon UK like I did).

Writing in what I think of as the Economist style (clear, witty, pointed, first-hand and with respect for the reader's intelligence), Legrain systematically confronts most of the important arguments for strictly limiting immigration both in general and in the particular case of Latino immigration to the United States. He also addresses the arguments against Islamic migrants that seem to preoccupy some of my European friends these days.

Yes, I agree that this book is a bit longer on anecdotes than it is on tables of statistics, but Thomas Friedman taught us all that one well told story is more powerful than a hundred econometric studies. And this book aims to persuade as it informs. I would say it is pretty successful and a good place to look for arguments when you find yourself cornered by an anti-migrant crowd.

If you like this book, you might also enjoy Legrain's equally straightforward and interesting book on globalization: Open World: The Truth about Globalization (2002), which is available in the U.S.

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