American Enter­prise Institute Fellow Charles Murray spoke on low- and high-income class divi­sions at Hillsdale College on Feb. 19. Wiki­media Commons

There has been a lot of news recently about immi­gration, par­tic­u­larly low-skill immi­gration from Mexico and Central America. How will the nonstop flow of low-skill immi­grants affect the American lower and middle classes?


I think that we have to put strict limits on that. I’m in favor of lim­iting immi­gration, that’s a new position for me. For a long time I just accepted the eco­nomic data that said ‘actually, they’re not taking away jobs from Amer­icans’, but at some point you say ‘I don’t care what the Macro-econ­o­mists say, the fact is that there are some skilled blue-collar workers who used to make $18 and hour who now make $13 and hour because they’re com­peting with illegal immi­grants who will work for twelve because they aren’t getting social security and the rest of it. I’m not sure that lim­iting low-skill immi­gration will change the status of working-class America. At this point I think we’ve got to give it a try. I have been too cav­alier about my fellow Amer­icans who are com­peting with an influx of low-skill workers.


Many believe that tech­no­logical devel­opment will elim­inate many jobs for the lower and middle class in the near future. How do you think the devel­opment of tech­nology will affect the class-divide?


I think that the really dis­ruptive change is going to be the loss of jobs in the middle class because arti­ficial intel­li­gence is finally making good on the promise that has been touted for years and it’s getting good enough that it will be able to do a lot of white collar jobs as well as a human can at a fraction of the cost. So you’re going to see the dis­placement of mil­lions of white collar workers. I don’t know anybody who’s thinking ahead to that and thinking through how we deal with that. People worry about low-skill jobs going out. But there are certain low skill jobs that are not going to go away. Plumbers are not going to go away. Elec­tri­cians are not going to go away. A lot of clerk jobs and offices are going to go away.


How effective are pro­tective tariffs in solving the problems that affect the lower and middle classes?


I think that one of the few things that eco­nomics knows for an absolute fact is that tariffs are a bad thing. We’ve known that since at least Adam Smith and I know of no rep­utable econ­omist who thinks tariffs are a win-win. So in this regard I’m a Free Market econ­omist.


The Charter School movement is some­times crit­i­cized for sep­a­rating children with parents who care from the rest, leaving public schools, espe­cially in large cities, left with only children from broken homes. Is this crit­icism valid? Do you think charter schools, in general, con­tribute to the sep­a­ration or the weaving together of the upper and lower classes?


My general take is that if the people who make that crit­icism are them­selves sending their kids to public schools, then I respect their position… the crit­i­cisms of charter schools, by and large, are made by people who would not  give up their own right to choose the schools they want for their kids… to sum it up, very few parents are willing to sac­rifice their own kids to an inferior school system in service of a greater social good. Very few parents are willing to do that. I’m not willing to ask parents to do that.


Do you have any general sug­ges­tions for college grad­uates who want to help stop the strat­i­fi­cation of American society?


In your own lives there are lots of oppor­tu­nities to do it and the ones that I men­tioned in the lecture are ones that I emphat­i­cally endorse. Con­sider going into the mil­itary when you get out of Hillsdale both to serve your country and to serve yourself. And if you aren’t going to do that, do some­thing to push you out of your comfort zone. All the stu­dents at Hillsdale have proved that they can deal with a classroom sit­u­ation quite effec­tively. Good, you know that. Don’t go on for another three or fours where you con­tinue to prove that you have that skill set. Go out there and dis­cover those other skills that you might have and more impor­tantly give yourself a chance to dis­cover how you want to spend the rest of your life. Give yourself the chance to learn the things you might love to do that you’re never going to learn to do, that you’re never going to identify, if you go directly from Hillsdale to graduate school.