Immigration Common Sense North of the Border

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on July 4, 2011

Even with its point system, which reduces unskilled, uneducated immigration, Canada has still seen immigrants imposing a sizable fiscal burden on citizens. A recent report by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute found that Canada's immigrant population collected more than $6,000 per person more than each immigrant paid in taxes in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

Some of the claims of mass immigration enthusiasts to our north sound quite familiar. Fraser scholars, who are generally free-market oriented, looked at those claims and found that they ring hollow (just as CIS, the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector, and others often have done in America). The Fraser Institute study determined "that none of these propositions hold up to close scrutiny."

There's the assertion that future generations will more than make up for the wealth transfer from government welfare taken by the earlier generations. However, "they would do so only if, persistently and on average, they have incomes and pay taxes much above the average of all Canadians. This outcome is unlikely given that the offspring of immigrants in the past eventually have taken on all of the characteristics of the average Canadian."

Then there's the claim that mass immigration will solve the fiscal problems of Ponzi schemes (like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security), as well as other social welfare (i.e., wealth transfer) programs. Not so, reported Fraser. "However, according to careful studies by actuaries, immigrants arriving in acceptable numbers cannot do so, simply and mainly because immigrants age and also receive the costly benefits." Cato Institute, phone Steve Camarota.

Of course, there's the "immigrants fill jobs that Canadians won't do" argument. Again, it isn't true in the United States and it crumbles in Canada. "[I]n the absence of immigration, these jobs would pay higher wages and would be filled by Canadians or eliminated by the application of labour-saving technology. Under these conditions, poverty in Canada would be reduced substantially." Out of the mouths of maple leaves.

And the bald assertion that immigrants contribute positively to the economy gets trotted out in Canada, as well. But as every credible source from the National Academy of Sciences to Harvard's George Borjas has found, any net gain from immigrants' economic contribution benefits are rather small and at such a general level, they are diffused so thoroughly that there's no benefit but rather cost at the level where it counts: for citizens themselves. "Immigrants raise aggregate national income but do not in the process increase per-capita incomes of all Canadians. In fact, as the study shows, they lower per-capita incomes after taxes, the most important measure of economic well-being."

The Fraser Institute has the intellectual honesty and integrity to recognize the boundaries of its political philosophy and where the real-world facts counteract those principles:

"In reading this publication, note that we fully accept the economic logic of the classical, textbook case for free immigration with all of its positive effects on freedom, national income, and global welfare. We recognize, however, that this theoretical case for free immigration is based on the key assumption that governments do not engage in income redistribution by pro- viding cradle-to-grave security through its welfare-state policies. That this is clearly not the case for Canada provides the basis for our considerable and important modification of the classical case for free immigration. As Milton Friedman, who was one of the twentieth century's staunchest advocates for freedom, said: 'You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.'"