Tag Archives: immigrants

A Bigger Pie

I think it was Mark Twain who said “It isn’t what you don’t know that hurts you–it’s what you know for certain that just ain’t so.”

Political debate these days is awash with “facts” that “just ain’t so.” One of those “facts” is that immigrants take jobs from Americans, and that raising the number of foreign-born people we allow to enter the country legally each year would worsen unemployment. A recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute tells a very different story.

The Institute looked at incorporation figures and determined that immigrants own 18% of all small businesses in the U.S. In other words, more than one in six small businesses is owned by an immigrant. Those businesses employ an estimated 4.7 million workers, and generate some $776 billion dollars in revenue.

That immigrants gravitate to ownership shouldn’t surprise us. You have to be a risk taker to leave the place of your birth and move to a foreign country. Anti-immigrant attitudes make it more difficult for educated and skilled immigrants to find management and professional positions with American-owned firms. So, disproportionately, immigrants start their own small businesses, and small businesses are far and away the largest generators of employment. Small businesses–not massive corporations–are the real “job creators.”

The notion that immigration slows job growth is rooted in a “zero sum” worldview, the belief that the economy is like a pie. In that view, there is a fixed amount of pie, and if you get a bigger slice, mine will be smaller–if an immigrant gets a job, that’s one job fewer for Americans.

The virtue of capitalism is that it encourages people to bake more pie. And that is precisely what immigrants are doing.

Somehow, I doubt that this evidence will make much difference to those who want to raise the gangplank and keep those “others” out. What we know that “just ain’t so” keeps getting in the way of acting in our own best interests.


Kicking the Dog–Extended Version

Watching the Indiana legislature reminds me more than anything of those days—and we’ve all had them—when nothing has gone right at the office, we’ve made fools of ourselves in a meeting, and we’re just in a foul mood. So we go home and yell at our spouse, snap at our children and kick the dog.

Our lawmakers are faced with massive problems, not all of which they created themselves. We have horrendous budgetary and fiscal problems, fights over education policy are reaching the boiling point, the Chief Justice and the Governor have stressed the need to rethink incarceration policies, and notwithstanding the constant hype from state officials, Indiana’s job creation has been anemic (to put it mildly).

So our legislators are kicking the dog—in this case, gays and immigrants.

Not that Indiana’s legislature has ever distinguished itself in the “serious and responsible” category. (When the late Harrison Ullmann edited NUVO, he regularly referred to the General Assembly as The World’s Worst Legislature.)  But this focus on gays and immigrants (more accurately, brown immigrants) is not only wrongheaded, it’s counterproductive. As the CEO of Cummins, Inc. wrote in this morning’s Indianapolis Star, Cummins has been a bright spot for employment in Indiana, creating jobs at a time when many employers have been cutting back. But much of their growth has depended upon international trade, and immigrant-bashing will hinder further job creation.

“We plan to add even more people given our ambitious plans for growth. These new jobs could be located in many places in the world; for us to add them in Indiana we must have an environment that is welcoming to all people and where diversity is valued and allowed to flourish.”

Cummins was one of the large Indiana employers who testified the last time the legislature tried to amend the Indiana constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. All of them made the same point: legislation bashing “the other” not only accomplishes nothing (immigration policy is a federal responsibility, and there is no same-sex marriage in Indiana), it inhibits job creation and economic development.

As I have previously noted, Indiana’s economic development policy has focused on recruiting and growing high-tech and biotech employers. Those tend to be companies that are gay-friendly, companies that also employ significant numbers of gays. Passing an anti-gay constitutional amendment sends, shall we say, a somewhat “mixed” message.

Leaders of Indiana’s religious and business communities have spoken out against these efforts to marginalize and disenfranchise. Editorial writers and lawyers have cautioned against the unanticipated consequences of the bills currently pending in the Indiana General Assembly. Administrators at institutions of higher education, including my own, have warned that these bills will make it difficult for our international students, and may jeopardize hard-won domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees.

All of these groups have warned that the risks of passing these measures are real, while the “benefits” are non-existent.  The immigration bill violates federal law, and if passed, will be struck down, and as many of us have pointed out, the only way Indiana will ever get same-sex marriage is if the United States Supreme Court rules that the U.S. Constitution requires it—and if that happens, a state constitutional provision won’t be enforceable anyway.

I hope some of our legislators are listening, but I doubt it. Kicking the dog doesn’t solve any of our problems, but it’s easier than dealing with fiscal and policy realities. And it evidently makes them feel better.