Working fallacy

José I. Duarte Economist Increasingly vocal, some sectors of the population have been claiming especial job protection or guarantees for local workers, presumably needed to guard them against a posited threat by non-resident workers. In simple terms, the argument, made explicit or just implied, suggests non-resident workers ‘steal’ jobs from the locals. That is, local residents may not find jobs for which they are properly qualified and which they would actually take because non-residents are filling them. Is the problem real and, if it is, is some protective action warranted or desirable? Facts and reason suggest there is little to support the contention that the problem exists to any meaningful extent, or that such protection would provide an adequate counter measure. But let’s assume, for a start, that it is true; that some non-residents are in fact occupying some jobs that could, should and would be alternatively filled adequately by a local. The affected workers would then be deprived of an income and the economy deprived of their skills – assuming, additionally, that the workers could not be deployed more efficiently somewhere else. Such a situation would naturally be socially and politically relevant, especially if those locals, as a result, were to find themselves with no means to make a decent living or survival and society, at large, lacked the proper means to deal with their predicament. In such a case, it would be possible to build a strong argument in favour of government intervention in the labour market where some degree of protection and positive discrimination for residents might be warranted. But it stands to reason that it is incumbent upon those claiming such intervention to provide evidence that such measures are necessary to rectify a demonstrable harm. Even if such a situation did exist, however, it would still have to be balanced against an alternative, which might actually fit better the preferences of the locals. By their working contribution, non-residents could actually allow local society to become wealthy enough to provide properly for the less favoured among them by other means. But let’s not delve further into the issue; enough has been said for the purpose here. If, on the other hand, the non-residents occupy places for which there are not sufficiently qualified locals, the issue of protecting the locals is in fact meaningless, unless the aim is to promote lower social welfare. Qualified workers that contribute to higher productivity and, therefore, higher domestic income and bigger overall wealth, should be welcome and actively sought. The ‘robbing jobs’ argument is essentially a fallacy, with scant evidence suggesting that it is true or, at least, true in any meaningful or obviously harmful way – in fact, quite the contrary. Its persistence and uncontested repetition may, however, give it some credence, whilst breeding opportunistic behaviour and stimulating xenophobic attitudes. None will contribute to social harmony or balanced economic growth.