On the Matter of Immigration, Nicholas Kristof Plays Conservatives Like a Stradivarius

The division of labor is the greatest friend of the worker that mankind has ever known. Nothing else comes close. Extra people or machines don’t ever take jobs from humans as much as they propel humans to much-more-specialized, higher-paid forms of work.

About what’s been written, it’s no idle theory. It’s basic economics. It’s what Adam Smith opened The Wealth of Nations with. Smith wasn’t inventing capitalism as some claim, he was merely reporting on capitalism. And in reporting on it, it’s no mistake that he opened with a pin factory visited.

The factory revealed that jobs aren’t finite, nor is wealth. The modern left believe both arguments, and they use the notion of a fixed pie as a way of decrying inequality all the while calling for wealth redistribution. No, jobs are infinite, and they grow in both quality and pay the more people and machines that there are. By extension, wealth is infinite. There’s quite simply no limit to how much can be created, rather the only limit to wealth creation is limits on the ability of people to cooperate with each other, but also with machines.

Which is what the pin factory reported on by Smith revealed. One man working alone in the factory could perhaps produce one pin per day. But several men working together in specialized fashion could produce tens of thousands.

Which just means the arrival of new hands and machines doesn’t put us out of work, as much as they’re essential for us to enhance our work, and by extension our compensation.

It’s important to remember this as conservatives naively cheer New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s recent column titled “Why Biden Is Right to Curb Immigration.” Conservatives view Kristof’s alleged conversion as a sign of capitulation from one of the left’s most prominent names, but in reality Kristof is playing the right like a Stradivarius.

To see why, consider the basis of his argument. Kristof writes, “At a time when so many working-class Americans are falling behind,” shouldn’t “we be careful about inflicting even more pain on them through immigration policy?” Conservatives are agreeing, and that’s what’s dangerous…for conservatives.

Rather explicit in Kristof’s argument is that there’s a fixed number of jobs, and a fixed amount of wealth. And since there is in Kristof’s errant view of how the world works, U.S. policy should favor keeping immigrants out. Since they’re coming here for jobs and wealth, their arrival will shrink what the rest of can get our hands on, the working classes the most. Sorry, but that’s what Kristof is saying.

About it, leave the immigration angle out of the discussion at least for now. Instead, simply employ basic economics. Could more people truly burden the economy, and shrink the wealth pie? Obviously not. Saying what can’t be said enough, the division of labor is the greatest friend of the worker that mankind has ever known. That’s true once again simply because the more hands and machines that work is spread across, the greater the specialization of each worker, and by extension the greater the pay of each worker.

To believe otherwise, to believe that more hands and machines are a burden on society because jobs and wealth are finite, is to vandalize basic economics. While conservatives can make all sorts of arguments against immigration, to pretend as they now do (alongside Kristof) that immigrants “take jobs” and wealth from the rest of us is for them to join the modern left in trampling on basic, Adam Smith economics.

Worse, to cheer on Kristof’s alleged conversion is to shift the economics discussion to left-wing notions that now define it: the pie is fixed, which means inequality is bad, but wealth redistribution is good. Who needs Karl Marx when you have Nicholas Kristof playing conservatives so brilliantly?

Republished from RealClear Markets


  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

    View all posts
Scroll to Top