Posted 1:42 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021

Bryan Caplan, an economist and professor at George Mason University, says the influx of Afghan immigrants to the Coulee Region has the potential to boost the local economy. Caplan explained why during a virtual conversation with Adam Hoffer, associate professor of economics at UWL.

Economist explains how Afghan immigrants can help boost the economy

The recent arrival of Afghan immigrants in the Coulee Region could boost the local economy.

That’s according to Bryan Caplan, an economist and professor at George Mason University, who spoke about the economic impact immigration in a virtual interview with UWL Professor Adam Hoffer on Sept. 27.

The interview, sponsored by the UWL Menard Family Midwest Initiative for Economic Engagement and Research, can be found at  (Caplan’s new book, “Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration,” explains this topic further.) 

“Most of the research on this says the effect of immigrants on local wages and employment is very slight,” Caplan says. “The better question to ask is: What is the effect of immigrants on global production? And there, we have a much stronger and more interesting answer. Moving almost anyone from a poor county to a rich country increases the total production of humanity, because you’re moving from countries that produce very little to countries that produce a lot. Which is to the general betterment of mankind.”

Caplan calls this the trillion-dollar bill left on the sidewalk.

For instance, when someone from a lower-income country moves to the U.S., they often get jobs in manufacturing, agriculture or the service indutry.  With more security and stronger infrastructure around them, they are often more productive and efficient, from a work standpoint, than they were in their home country.

The potential for such production is particularly high in the Coulee Region, with roughly 13,000 Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy soon looking to settle down.

At a time when many businesses are struggling to find workers, Caplan says the influx of Afghan immigrants can be particularly impactful. This, paired with a rise in wages, has the potential to overcome the current worker shortage.

Beyond economics, Caplan argues that there is a clear humanitarian benefit to providing immigrants safer homes and better lives.

The media may focus on negative outliers, he says, but the overall impact of immigration is largely positive.

“People are strongly inclined to be negative and look for things to complain about,” he notes. “One kid may go to school and get in a fight, and it makes the local news. How does that compare to 13,000 people not having to go to a slave labor camp? In general, people think in terms of stories and emotions, instead of calming down and thinking about the numbers.”

About the Menard Family Initiative

The interview with Bryan Caplan was made possible through UWL's Menard Family Midwest Imitative for Economic Engagement and Research.

The initiative supports scholarship, research projects and other hands-on learning opportunities in UWL’s College of Business Administration. It was established in 2019 with a $2.1 million gift from the Menard family.

Learn more here.