A recent blog exchange begun by Alex Tabarrok, picked up by Brad Delong, and extended by Greg Mankiw raises the question of whether academic economsits are willing to put their money where their collective mouths are.
The issue is that economists broadly support expanded legal immigration. Alex suggested this is partly because economists are ethical. Matthew Yglesias, even while applauding the support for more legal immigration, expressed skepticism about economists' true motives. He suggests economists do not fear an influx of low skill Mexicans because economists do not compete in the marketplace with low-skill Mexicans. The true test of economists' ethics, Matthew argues, is whether we would expand legal immigration for highly trained ecoomists, those who would compete for our jobs.
Brad, Greg, and I agree: expanded legal immigration for economists, as well as scientists, engineers, and other highly skilled professionals, is good. Raise the H1-B quota a lot. Better yet, eliminate it entirely.
Then let's discuss another aspect of economists' self-interest.
Economists broadly, and libertarian economists in particular, argue for eliminating or reducing pratically every government program. Economists have little to lose personally from such policy changes.
Yet economists broadly, and even many libertarian-leaning economists, support government funding for economics research. Is that position defensible?
My answer is no. Economic research is a good thing, and knowledge is a public good that might be underfunded by the marketplace. But economists cannot argue convincingly against other bad government policies unless we hold ourselves to the highest possible standard.
Give back those grants. Give them back now.