1/25/2013 05:45:00 PM
Matt Yglesias answers a question I have long wondered but never bothered to check for the data. Namely, how many people would come to the US if we had no immigration restrictions? Matt points us to a gallup survey showing that the number is roughly 150 million. That's not very much--our population density would remain lower than most of Europe.

There is a lesson there. To a certain extent, the US as a whole suffers from the "California syndrome" where we think that everyone in the world wants to live here, and that the only reason they don't move here is because they can't. It takes a special kind of arrogance to think that Mexicans are all unhappy living in Mexico.

Id add that there potential for bias in either direction around that 150 million estimate. On the one hand, a lot of those who said they would like to move to the US simply wouldn't--there are lots of things besides immigration restrictions that could cause them to stay, such as family, careers, costs, and maybe they will just decide that they like where they are, after all. On the otherhand, the 150 million estimate might be biased in the opposite direction from "discouraged immigrants" who would immigrate if they could, but responded "no" to the poll because they did not think it likely that immigration restrictions would ever be lifted. Yes, this violates the premise of the question, but that always happens in opinion polls.