There are many lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 crisis. Among them is that economic forecasts that look beyond, say next week, are nothing more than educated guesses. But that has not stopped FWD.us, a Silicon Valley-funded mass immigration advocacy group from citing a 2017 study as the basis for analyzing of what the group claims would be the harmful effects of enacting the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act.
The RAISE Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), would transition U.S. immigration policy from one that is largely based on family chain migration, to a system that prioritizes education and job skills. It would also reduce our historically high levels of immigration by about 50 percent. Even without enactment of the RAISE Act, FWD.us bemoans that due to restrictions put in place in response to the COVID crisis, immigration has (at least temporarily) been cut by that amount.
The reductions have “done incredible damage to the economy,” FWD.us asserts. “Experts estimate that the Trump Administration’s proposed cuts to current immigration levels would shrink GDP by 2% and cost 4.6 million jobs over 20 years.” Actually, it is COVID that has done the incredible damage to the economy, but FWD.us hopes no one will notice that.
The experts to whom they are referring do indeed have some credentials. They are researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business. But what FWD.us also hopes you won’t notice is that the study was published in 2017. The Wharton researchers, like everyone else on the planet, didn’t see COVID coming – a development that renders this and other economic forecasts, especially those projecting as far into the future as 2040, worthless.
Long range economic projections are inherently suspect. Even though the Wharton researchers cannot be faulted for not having anticipated COVID, we can be 100 percent certain that there will be numerous unforeseen developments over a 23 year period that will change the course of events – some slightly, some dramatically.
Another obvious sleight of hand on the part of FWD.us is that the Wharton model does not actually project that GDP would shrink if the RAISE Act were implemented. Rather, it claims that GDP would be 2 percent less than it might otherwise be without adopting the RAISE Act – a projection that is based on the shaky proposition that half of new immigrants admitted under our current family chain migration system, over that period, would have college degrees or better.
And then there’s the very significant distinction between GDP and per capita GDP – the latter of which is arguably far more important. Once you get beyond Wharton’s bullet point summary of key findings and into the meat of the report, you find that under the report’s more realistic 10-year forecast the RAISE would increase per capita GDP. “[W]e project that the RAISE Act will increase per capita GDP by 0.02 percent by 2027,” states the Wharton analysis, (again, based on their questionable assumption that continuation of current policies would have resulted half of all legal immigrants holding post-secondary degrees). Longer term (by 2040), Wharton does claim that the RAISE Act would result in lower per capita GDP, but the farther out you look the murkier things get.
But, of course, if you are an advocacy group that is funded by business interests with an insatiable appetite for foreign labor, why let a little thing like the economic upheaval of COVID stand in the way of staking your case on already dubious pre-pandemic economic forecasts?