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.