Sir William Arthur Lewis was honored on Google’s Dec. 10 webpage. Given the Nobel Prize-winning British economist’s position on immigration and wages, that day’s “Google Doodle” was a richly ironic icon.
In his 1954 treatise, “Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour,” Lewis wrote, “If there were free immigration from India and China to the U.S.A., the wage level of the U.S.A. would certainly be pulled down towards the Indian and Chinese levels.”
“Mass immigration of unskilled labour might … raise output per head but its effect would be to keep wages in all countries near the subsistence level of the poorest countries.”
Lewis did not define “mass immigration,” but he surely would have recognized it today, nearly 30 years after his death. Global corporations’ use of imported labor — unskilled and skilled – has grown far beyond anything Lewis witnessed in his lifetime.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, himself an immigrant, boasts that “immigration has contributed immensely to America’s economic success, making it a global leader in tech, and also Google the company it is today.”
But while applauding its foreign imports, Big Tech fights Trump administration rules to raise prevailing wages of that workforce. Lewis foresaw such reaction, noting that the fruits of high migration “flow disproportionately to business owners because the deep pool of excess labour ensures wages stay low.”
FAIR President Dan Stein illustrated the economic bifurcation. “In 1974, U.S. GDP was $1.545 trillion, or the equivalent of $5.657 trillion in today’s dollars. In real terms, our current $18 trillion GDP is three times as large as it was in 1974, and yet most Americans are no better off than they were then.”
This phenomenon can be attributed to a number of trends, such as economic globalization, mechanization and computerization of production, and the advent of the Internet. But it’s also a byproduct of the age of mass migration.
“It is no coincidence that the decades-long stagnation of American wages began with the onset of mass immigration. In 1970, the foreign-born population of the United States was 9.6 million people; today it exceeds 44 million. What we are witnessing is the law of supply and demand at work – and it is clearly not working in favor of American workers,” Stein said.
In their eagerness to laud a Nobel economist of color, were the fine minds at Google unaware how Lewis indicted their business model? More likely, they simply don’t care.