Home > Edward Glaeser, Immigration, The New York Times > Is There Enough Room?

Is There Enough Room?

Ever get this?

     “I’m not against immigration just illegal immigration.” 

It’s a reasonable position to which I respond that you must agree then to reduce illegal immigration by expanding legal channels. But anytime I convince immigration liberalization opponents to recognize many of the problems associated with illegal immigration would go down if you opened the borders, their initial reaction seems to always be a worry of overcrowding. Well here’s a 2006 profile in The New York Times on economist Edward Glaeser, which contains a statistic that stuck with me since I first read it. Here’s the mind-blowing excerpt:

Almost as a rule, Glaeser is skeptical of the lack-of-land argument. He has previously noted (with a collaborator, Matthew Kahn) that 95 percent of the United States remains undeveloped and that if every American were given a house on a quarter acre, so that every family of four had a full acre, that distribution would not use up half the land in Texas. Most of Boston’s metro area, he concluded, wasn’t particularly dense, and even in places where it was, like the centers of Boston and Cambridge, there was ample opportunity to construct higher buildings with more housing units.

(my emphasis) 
(image from geology.com) 

  1. May 7, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Interesting, but what about the idea that a welfare state with open borders will be bombarded by immigrants? Even if the US has enough ''room'', does the US have enough money & resources to support an influx of immigrants from impoverished countries, seeking health care, benefits, etc.?

  2. May 7, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    I do think that is a valid concern, but a treatable one. I believe that is Krugman's worry. One way to alleviate any pressure would be to revive a guest worker problem that was so successful in the past. Also, since almost all economists agree that immigration boosts economic growth, more money should be available to pay for services (this especially helps ameliorate the problems with aging populations). Most immigrants are necessarily young and healthy. Welfare problems could also be reformed to make sure new immigrants weren't just coming here to 'feed from the trough.' The real problem of course with this argument is that there just isn't much empirical evidence that this happens in practice. It costs too much to relocate for the modest benefits that any new migrant in practice would receive. Immigrants are almost certainly more likely to make more money working in their home country or in the country to which they move.

  3. May 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    It's a strange argument indeed (the land one). After all, wouldn't ever migrant "make room" somewhere by going somewhere else, and would not migrant stop going to a place that "had no more room"? Or perhaps it's a new twist on Yogi Berra humor: "Nobody migrates there anymore, it's too crowded."

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