Division of Labor Allows High-Productivity People to be Highly Productive

Commenting on this post at Cafe Hayek, Marisol Regalado Aguilar writes:

I’ve never understood why some many pundits think the government should admit only high-skilled immigrants. We need fruit pickers and floor cleaners, too.

Marisol makes an important point.  There are always jobs that need to be done.  By dividing labor, it allows people to specialize in what they are comparatively best at.  For every janitor or fruit picker imported (that is, low-skilled immigration), it allows doctors and factory workers to focus on their jobs.  In other words, highly productive people are only highly productive because low productivity people do low productivity jobs.

Despite the fears, the division of labor does not reduce wages but rather increase them.  It allows people to focus, become more productive, and thus increase their marginal output and increase their wages.  Low skilled immigration serves precisely this function.

Consider the following: a doctor’s office has basic janitorial needs: trash emptied, rooms sanitized, basic upkeep, etc.  If the doctor cannot hire someone to do that, either because they are not available or he’d have to pay higher wages to lure them away from other jobs and he cannot afford to do so, then he’d have to do the work himself.  That’d necessarily mean he has less time to see patients, do research, or whatever he does to be highly productive.  The doctor would have to become lowly productive.

Restricting immigration to just high skilled workers will not result in increased productivity in the nation.  If anything, it’ll result in lower productivity, and thus lower wages.

6 thoughts on “Division of Labor Allows High-Productivity People to be Highly Productive

  1. That’s a discussion I have periodically with Paul at CD. How many additional brain surgeons, accountants , and astrophysicists can find meaningful employment in the US? There is a constant demand for the lowest skilled workers as those currently doing those jobs gain skills and experience and move on to better paying jobs.

    Without providing any support for my assertion, I’ll guess the total (aggregate) amount paid to all janitorial service workers in the US exceeds by a wide margin the total amount paid to all specialist surgeons. Does that mean “we” (all US consumers) value all janitorial work more highly than say, all brain surgery if “we” spend more on the former? Or is this just another example of macro thinking run amuck?

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    • Ron,

      >—“Does that mean “we” (all US consumers) value all janitorial work more highly than say, all brain surgery if “we” spend more on the former? Or is this just another example of macro thinking run amuck?”

      It means we don’t have to decide which is more highly valued because one doesn’t come at the expense of the other.

      Paul’s position on immigration really isn’t about economics at all. It’s about xenophobia.

      If we spend more on janitorial services than brain surgeries it’s because there are a lot more spaces that need to be cleaned than brains that need to be operated on.

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