Immigration is the Reverse Black Death?

Let’s consider the political goals of righteous Americans today:

  • higher wages for the average person
  • an improved environment with less human impact on the land
  • less concentration of wealth in the hands of real property owners
  • more affordable housing for the working class

While listening to An Economic History of the World since 1400 by Professor Donald J. Harreld, I learned that all of the above goals were achieved in the 14th century via the Black Death, which reduced the European population by approximately one third.

  • wages for workers, including unskilled agricultural workers, increased as much as 40-50 percent
  • food prices fell
  • land and housing prices fell
  • the least productive farmland was allowed to return to natural forest (contrast to conditions before, from the course notes: “By about 1300, Europeans had just about all arable land under cultivation, including marginal and poorly producing lands, to sustain the growing population”)

Is it fair to think of immigration as the reverse of the Black Death? We’re dramatically growing our population via immigrants and children of immigrants (see “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065” (Pew)).

What seems surprising, then, is that the people who say that they want to see all of the economic results of the Black Death simultaneously say that they want to adjust U.S. demographics in precisely the opposite direction of the Black Death.

Is the apparent inconsistency resolved because only about 2 percent of U.S. workers are directly employed in agriculture?

7 thoughts on “Immigration is the Reverse Black Death?

  1. We don’t live in a country where the wealth is land-based. In the middle ages a field could produce only so much (no modern fertilizers and mechanical aids). Fewer people then resulted in higher average wealth (within some parameters).

    Immigration is a complex issue. This country had basically free immigration until the second decade of the XX century and the wage growth was spectacular. Was it as good thing that Albert Einstein immigrated to the US? Many, if not most, immigrants create wealth. Again, it is a complex problem.

    A very good video of Milton Friedman on the subject.

    • > This country had basically free immigration until the second decade of the XX century

      You explicitly had to be white and do a ton of paperwork and show references. It was nothing like “free” immigration.

      In practice there were a handful of discrete periods of high immigration: pre-revolution, 1840s, and 1890s to 1914. The vast majority of population growth was from natural increase. The 1965 to present day wave has just now surpassed the turn of 20th century wave in terms of population proportion. We are now in a totally historically unprecedented situation with mass immigration. The previous two resulted in the Know Nothings and the KKK.

    • Z: what percentage of that market cap is owned by the bottom 99.9% of people, versus corporations ( banks ) or the ultra-wealthy I wonder?

      I reckon that’s the concentration that is more problematic these days.

  2. Z, for that type of wealth (real estate), immigration is always a net gain. More demand, higher prices.

    • Not related to immigration per se: it is problematic to call to count real estate as unadulterated wealth taken at it market value. Of course it an important component of robust society but in itself it carries little added value beyond let’s say 1950th US construction technologies. It may be even a drug, due to regulations on one occasion that I recall upgrades for a 4 – floor elevator were significantly, by an order of magnitude, more expensive then building new comparable building. US suburban sprawl and urban highrises are much better than slams but it is not fact that they are more productive by the same factor that they are better.

  3. Hi Phil,
    These four requirements can be easily met: all we have to do is invade and annex Russia.
    – Wages will rise 60-fold as we re-nominate them in rubles.
    – Food prices will fall since the US Mid-West is much more productive in GMO grains than Mother Russia
    – An improved environment with less human impact on the land? guaranteed percentage-wise! (and if not, we should order more Roundup TM from Monsanto)
    – The least productive farmland WILL be allowed to return to natural forest (or the tundra)

    In addition to all that:
    – we will certainly have more Einsteins in the population as Russians shift their favorite pastime from drinking vodka to studying theoretical physics (more peasants=more Einsteins: just ask the proponents of unlimited immigration)
    – we will enjoy more ethnic diversity, by having more Tatars and fewer WASPs
    – no more election meddling: we will finally stick it to Putin, as well as to Trump

    Let’s sign the petition to start the bombing at 5:00 in the morning! Let me go grab some popcorn and a gas mask.

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