Streetwise Professor

January 15, 2018


Filed under: Economics,Politics,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 8:30 pm

A few comments on ShitholeGate.

First, I dunno if Trump said it. It sounds in character, but the sources for it (being anonymous and/or Dick Durbin) are hardly unimpeachable.

Second, there must be a shortage of fainting couches, smelling salts, and pearls for clutching in DC and media land, given the collective swooning and shock at the thought that a president used a four letter word.

Uhm, LBJ anybody? Nixon?

Third, there are logically coherent and logically incoherent objections to what Trump allegedly said about questioning the wisdom of admitting more people from shitholes than non-shitholes (e.g., Norway–though at one time, my ancestors apparently disagreed!)

The logically coherent objection is: “Yes, these are horrible, abjectly miserable places, which is why we should take in people from them, on humanitarian grounds.”

The logically incoherent objection is: “How dare you call them shitholes! They are wonderful places full of wonderful people! But we are rescuing people from lives of misery by taking in the poor and huddled masses from these places.” If they’re so great, why the intense desire to leave?

Suffice it to say, the logically incoherent objection has been the dominant narrative on the left.

The logically coherent objection creates its own issues: logical coherence is necessary for it to be a reasonable policy position, but by no means sufficient.

One of the issues is: what is the limiting principle? Or is there none?: do you favor no restrictions on immigration whatsoever? If that’s your position–be open about your support for open borders. Don’t try to have it all ways.

If you do favor restrictions, what criteria will you apply for determining who can immigrate to the US? What are the benefits? The costs? What is the incidence of those costs and benefits? Again, be open about it–speaking in gauzy generalities is dishonest, and makes it impossible to evaluate your position.

A related issue is that those who object to, or even have reservations about, open borders or even relatively liberal immigration policy are routinely excoriated as racists and bigots. Yes, some are. But many are not, even though they have a strong preference for traditional American culture which is deeply rooted in European cultures and ethnicity. Do you believe that is a legitimate preference?  If not, do you advocate the rejection of democratic means to decide immigration matters because those with illegitimate views might prevail? Further, African Americans are to a large extent more opposed to immigration than white Americans. Is that due to racism? Or is it a telling indication that the views on immigration also (and arguably primarily) fall along economic/class lines?

This touches upon another element of incoherence in the immigration debate: assimilation. Many (and arguably most, now) advocates of liberal immigration policies are hostile to the notion of assimilation, again imputing racist motives and cultural bigotry to those who believe that current immigrants should assimilate the way that their grandparents and great-grandparents and generations before them did. But hostility to assimilation and hostility to those who favor assimilation means that it’s OK for some (immigrants) to prefer their own culture, ethnicity or race, but it’s not OK for others (the native born) to do so.

This is another variation on the incoherence of identity politics. The most ardent advocates of identity politics scorn intensely those who feel that their identity is threatened by mass immigration, especially mass immigration without assimilation. In the identity politics animal farm, all identities are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Along these lines, it is pretty apparent that the political elites who are most ardent in support of very liberal immigration policies are those who are least likely to be disclocated by large flows of immigrants, and may indeed benefit from it. Those they scorn–many of whom voted for Trump–are the ones most likely to be adversely impacted, either economically or socially/culturally.  Ironic coming from people who are also likely to claim that they favor redistribution in order to reduce economic inequality.

Personally, I confess to some ambivalence on these matters. The libertarian in me favors free movement of people. At the same time, I recognize the Friedman/Richard Epstein point that the welfare state means that immigration is not the result of mutually beneficial bargains entered into without coercion: immigration attracted by the potential to obtain benefits funded by coercive taxation is problematic indeed. (Friedman and Epstein object to the welfare state in large part because it makes unrestricted immigration infeasible.) Furthermore, I understand the importance of social trust and communication and coordination due to shared assumptions and beliefs, and how those can be facilitated by some homogeneity in ideals and culture and background. Relatedly, a democratic polity operating on a principle of consent has to give preference to current citizens.

Immigration has always been a fraught issue in the US, although the intensity of views about it has waxed and waned over time. Our handling of the issue has never been perfect, but I think that (a) the US historically did a better job of it than any country in history (certainly modern history), and (b) we handled immigration best prior to the rise of the welfare state, and when assimilation was a widely shared ideal. Those conditions do not prevail now, which makes me much more cautious, and indeed skeptical, about relatively untrammeled immigration. As a result, I think it’s fair to ask: how many should we accept from where?, and shouldn’t we be more skeptical about mass immigration from countries that are vastly different economically, culturally, and socially?

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  1. What I never understood is why not take care of the externalities of immigration the way economists prefer to take care of any externalities: require a minimum income (and hence tax) that the new arrivals have to make for X years to qualify for citizenship, deny welfare to non-citizens (make them pay for “free” services), and let the market decide the rest. Is there any other reason not to do it beyond the politicians’ unwilligness to solve the problem rather than exploit it?

    Comment by Ivan — January 16, 2018 @ 2:46 am

  2. The posturing by Schmuck Schumer and Tricky Dickie Durbin and all the other screechers and screamers is deplorable, especially in view of prior solemn pronouncements about “secure borders.”

    Especially on DACA. President Obongo created an unconstitutional, illegal program to begin with.

    Now, Schmuck and Tricky Dickie and all the other fainting snowflakes want to preserve and extend it. Priceless.

    Somehow, other countries don’t have a problem setting forth criteria that would prevent immigrants from becoming a burden upon the state.

    But Schmuck and Tricky and the rest of their screaming cohorts are looking for – voters.

    Example of Irish policy here:

    Persons of Independent Means
    For persons of independent means, the financial threshold is generally considered to be
    €50,000 per person per annum, plus the person must have access to a lump sum of money
    to cover any unforeseen major expenses. This should be equivalent to, for example, the
    price of a dwelling in the State.
    Financial documentation should be presented in tabular
    form and converted into Euros, clearly showing all income and expenditure on a monthly
    basis. This must be certified by an Irish accountancy firm who have the expert knowledge
    to interpret the format of the overseas
    banking / accountancy documentation.
    Each application is dealt with on a case by case basis.

    Comment by elmer — January 16, 2018 @ 9:56 am

  3. DACA people more likely to commit crimes

    Comment by elmer — January 16, 2018 @ 10:45 am

  4. @Ivan–Gary Becker (Nobel prize winner from University of Chicago, and one of my former profs) made a proposal pretty similar to yours.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 16, 2018 @ 11:53 am

  5. But @elmer–they have dreams!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 16, 2018 @ 11:53 am

  6. They may have dreams, but all that Prez Osama (Ted Kennedy called him Osama) created is a nightmare.

    And so did the illegal aliens.

    Mexico is a hugely corrupt country, so it’s understandable that people would want to leave, unless they, like Carlos Slime, one of the chief corruptioneers, are the beneficiaries of corruption.

    I maintain that it is essential to force Mexico to get rid of corruption, so that people would want to stay in Mexico.

    Comment by elmer — January 16, 2018 @ 3:41 pm

  7. Immigration (for the unskilled) is a lifeboat dilemma: If you don’t take people in, they will drown, but if you take too many the boat sinks and everyone drowns. (Here the sinking lifeboat represents the breakdown of the social order that makes the US a desirable migrant destination.) A century ago, immigration required a long journey and a leap of faith, and returning to your country of origin, even for a visit, was uncommon. In that environment, immigrants were self-selected for personal initiative and desire to assimilate. In this age of jet travel and cheap telecom, the cohort of immigrants contains many more members who are better described as rootless drifters. The problem is made much worse by things like the visa lottery, and a bureaucratic process that is incapable of sorting visa candidates by character. The best solution I can think of is to have a legislated cap, and to assign a the ability to sponsor an immigrant to randomly selected citizens; individuals can make judgements on character while a government administration cannot (and probably should not). A typical American, when selected, could go to some .org website to pick out someone to sponsor. We have this to a limited extent already with imported brides, and I don’t see many complaints about such immigrants not assimilating well or being deadbeats.

    Skilled immigration, by comparison, is easy to fix. Abolish H1B and sell the visas at auction. If these skills are so scarce, someone would be willing to pay for them, and the free market will assign them to their most efficient use.

    Comment by M. Rad. — January 16, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

  8. @elmer-I was being sarcastic!

    And yes, having a safety valve that also provides cash flow (from immigrants sending cash back home) reduces what little pressure there is on Mexico (and other countries) to reform.

    Another point needs to be made, in response to you and @Ivan. Namely, proposals to limit immigration to those who are likely to make a substantial economic or intellectual contribution, and who are interested in assimilating, are an anathema to the most intense supporters of immigration. Quite frankly, immigration of low income/low skill individuals is in the political interest of the immigration left. They are bringing with them something more valuable than skills or income–they are bringing Democratic votes, though with a lag. This is a political investment.

    The best evidence is the Congressional Black Caucus. Immigration of the low skilled hits African Americans particularly hard. But their elected representatives in the CBC are full-throated immigration supporters. The only plausible explanation is that it serves the interests of the Democratic Party.

    At least they are politically rational. Don’t ask me to explain McCain, Graham, Rubio, etc.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 16, 2018 @ 7:14 pm

  9. The left is laughable, they can not longer be taken seriously about anything.

    Indictments will shock the few reasonable leftys not in fetal position.

    Comment by Joe Walker — January 16, 2018 @ 8:42 pm

  10. “A century ago, immigration required a long journey and a leap of faith, and returning to your country of origin, even for a visit, was uncommon”: I gather that, on the contrary, Italians often returned home from the US once they’d made enough money to buy some land in Italy.

    “immigrants were self-selected for personal initiative …”: at least in the sense that many were presumably fleeing their wives, their creditors, or the police. For members of my family who emigrated to the US and left an account of motive, it was really simple: cheap land and less competition.

    Comment by dearieme — January 17, 2018 @ 8:16 am

  11. Regarding Italians having a reciprocating immigration pattern, I had heard of this before, but with South America being the destination. In some cases, Italians would arbitrage the difference in seasons, working a farm in Italy May-Oct, and one in South America Nov-Apr. Maybe that explains why Italians (and Mexicans, who could easily return) assimilated more slowly than, for example, Poles or Germans.

    Comment by M. Rad. — January 17, 2018 @ 9:05 am

  12. Tyler Coleen had a Article to the effect immigrants from say, shitholes, are generally above average in education and skills than their home nation median. Leaving aside the credentials problem here for these immigrants, that means more open immigration could cause the home nations future rebuilding and growth.

    Comment by The Pilot — January 17, 2018 @ 9:16 am

  13. The less-perfect correlation between ability and outcome in poor foreign countries with dysfunctional institutions means that many poor immigrants from there are substantially more competent than Americans of equivalent social position. The smart, driven kid from a small rural village is less likely to get plucked out of his or her environment by talent-hungry schools and companies, or even by joining the armed forces and rising within the ranks. So many of these folks will dominate in U.S. low-wage markets despite language deficiencies, because almost all the people similar to them in the U.S. have been vectored into more-lucrative or easier occupations.

    The problem with most skill-based immigration points systems is that they effectively apply government planning solutions to the labor force. There is no reason to believe that some bureaucratic scheme even approximates the gains-maximizing mix of immigrants.

    Comment by srp — January 19, 2018 @ 7:08 pm

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