By Richard Vedder
I had a superb and totally unanticipated example of the Law of Unintended Consequences brought to my attention while riding on a commuter train into downtown Washington, D.C. I am chairing a conference at the American Enterprise Institute tomorrow (June 6) on New Approaches to Higher Education: Solutions or Fads? where we will bring together leaders of the for profit industry and academics to discuss whether alternatives to the traditional not-for-profit four year institutions hold some promise for lowering higher education costs. If you are in the D.C. area, drop by. It begins at the Wohlsletter Conference Center on the 12th floor of the AEI building, 1150 17th St. N.W., at 9:00 a.m. Should be lively, informative, and fun.
Back to my epiphany on the train. I was reading a marvelous book Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders by one of my favorite journalists, the Wall Street Journal's Jason Riley. Jason makes a superb point. Many Americans don't want to do lower level jobs --picking vegetables, working in factories, running cash registers at Wal-Mart--so immigrants have been filling those positions, in some cases illegal aliens with very low levels of educational attainment. But why don't the Americans want these jobs, aside from issues of pay?
Riley opines that rising educational attainment has made many Americans believe that they have skills far above those required for manual labor, so they do not want to take them. That raises the possibility that the vast increase in college enrollments over time has had the unintended consequence of increasing the demand for immigrant labor, and has increased the flow of illegal aliens to the U.S.
So this is not misinterpreted, let me say I am a proponent of a large and vibrant immigrant population, and want to reduce visa and other restrictions on the free international flow of labor. Having said that, however, I do believe in the rule of law and wish we had more legal and fewer illegal immigrants (we should move to a market based immigration policy, but that is beyond the purview of this blog). And I do think a spillover impact of vast public subsidies of higher education may be why we are having more illegal aliens than otherwise would be the case.