Immigration is bad for ….the environment!?!

Last week, my friend, economist Benjamin Powell, was in Denver to talk about what will be the hot topic of the 2008 elections: Is immigration a good or bad thing for the U.S. and what should we do about it? The high-point of his visit was the debate with former Governor Richard D. Lamm. The debate that took place on the Auraria campus was broadcasted on internet. It will also be downloadable on the MSCD’s website and on iTunes(c) and a Spanish transcript will be available as well.  Ben who has discussed this issue several times prior to his visit to Denver received some press notably in the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, and ColoradoBiz Magazine following this event.

Allow me to give some personal thoughts on the debate.

After all the economic arguments and facts Ben Powell gave to Richard Lamm to explain why immigration is a good thing for the United States, the best thing Richard Lamm came up with to counter Powell’s arguments was immigration is bad for the environment!!!! According to Lamm, allowing more immigrants into the country will aggravate the overpopulation problem the U.S. seems to be suffering right now. We will end up using up the nation’s natural resources and will aggravate the global warming problem, ice will be melting, and this will be the end of all humanity. That type of arguments sounds very familiar… was there not a famous economist who argued something quite similar? Yes, there was Dr. Padilla. His name was: Reverend Thomas Malthus. Malthus, famous for writing "An Essay on the Principle of Population" (1798), also argued that overpopulation will result in the depletion of natural resources and massive starvation. Today, 200 years later, the world population is about 6.6 billion people and natural resources are yet to be depleted and the massive starvation predicted by Malthus has not happened, at least not as a result of population growth. The reason why Malthus failed in his predictions is that he underestimated the importance of technology and the ability of human beings to find substitutes. Moreover, Malthus forgot that individual’s needs and wants also change over time so some resources are no longer needed when individuals satisfy their needs for them and they move on to new needs. Of course, despite Malthus being wrong, his thesis still inspires many followers. There is not a day without some doomsayer claiming that we are killing Mother Earth, depleting natural resources, overfishing, overhunting, overproducing, overconsuming, overdriving, overbreathing, overeating, overdrinking, etc. And, of course, we are still awaiting to see those Nostradamuses of the world acknowledging that they are wrong…which is never going to happen because, according to them, they just misestimating their predictions by a few years, decades, centuries….millennia?

Ben Powell did accurately replied to former Governor Richard Lamm’s arguments on resource depletion resulting of overpopulation by mentioning in addition of what I have said above the famous bet that took place between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich in the 1980s. Julian Simon bet that the price of a basket of 5 metals will fall between 1980 and 1990. Guess what? He won and Paul Ehrlich in October 1990 mailed a check to Julian Simon for an amount of $576.07.

If I had to make a bet between who was more convincing between Ben Powell and former Governor Richard Lamm, I would have to bet Ben Powell…Sorry Dick…but I still do not understand how you succeeded to be elected Governor? …Hmmm, maybe Bryan Caplan is right after all about The Myth of the Rational Voter…or is it because we economists are so smart?

More to come on this immigration debate…I am not done yet… 

Published in: on October 2, 2007 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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