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April 21, 2004

Timothy Taylor on Immigration

Dear Friedrich --

I may get a little annoyed when my side in a debate loses, but I'm driven absolutely batty when one team is preventing a worthy debate from happening at all. That's how things stand with the topic of immigration; the pro-high-rates crowd has succeeded in blocking a perfectly legitimate conversation from taking place. There are cheering signs that the logjam is beginning to break up, thank heavens; Britain's Tony Blair is deep in the midst of a multiculturalism-and-immigration crisis in Britain, for instance.

But immigration in this country is still a dicey topic to raise in polite circles. Yet what could be more fundamental to conducting a nation's affairs than open discussion about borders, about who's allowed to become a citizen, and on what basis? These are topics as basic to running a nation as national defence; they ought to getting regular public airings.

What the pro-high-rates crowd has mostly got people afraid of is of being called racist, I'd guess. But that's ludicrous. For one obvious thing: since when is "Mexican" a race? Mexicans range from thoroughly Euro to 100% Indian. Being for high rates sounds, in any case, generous and bighearted -- like a position that guarantees you a place on the side of the angels. Yet current rates and policies can be hard to defend on idealistic terms. For instance, they have already had the effect of pushing our African-American population out of its traditional position as the country's biggest minority. American blacks, when told about this, say in large numbers (and understandably) that they're upset this has happened. So perhaps the racists here are the pro-high-rates people who -- while patting themselves on the back for their openhearted generosity -- have done a disservice to their country's African-Americans.

The pro-high-rates crowd's other p-r triumph is to get many people thinking that the current situation is unavoidable. What's the use in raising the topic when there are all those miles of border between the U.S. and Mexico? I'm surprised by how many people seem to consider it inevitable that the American Southwest will soon become Mexican. Their attitude seems to be: Why not just hand it over now?

Yet there's no reason policies can't change. The history of immigration in this country shows a regular back-and-forth movement. A few decades of high immigration are followed by a few decades of very low rates; there are periods when the country takes in lots of newcomers, and periods when the country decides that the time has come to incorporate what it has ingested. It's quite possible that the time has come, as it was often found to have in the past, to clamp down and recover from our current, almost-40-year-long binge. And as for that Mexican border? Well, prior to 1970, there wasn't really all that much immigration across it.

The fact is that there's no way to be "liberal" on the subject in one sense that doesn't make you a hardass in another. Another example: being pro-high-rates sounds so sweetly liberal -- yet many environmentalists dislike high rates because they lead to dramatically higher population growth than we'd otherwise have. (Did you realize, by the way, that 3/4 of all population growth in this country is now due to a combination of immigration and births to immigrant mothers?) It seems to me, FWIW, that the only truly "liberal" thing that can be done here is, as (ta-da) I advocate, to open the topic up, let the conversation rip, and see where the tide carries us.

If the debate doesn't separate out into left/right or even into liberal/conservative, then who, in fact, are the supporters of high immigration rates? It turns out that there are three main groups: Republicans who want cheap labor; Democrats who want votes (immigrants traditionally vote heavily Democratic); and idealistic people trying to align themselves with the angels.

And who, on the other hand, thinks immigration rates are too high? Depending on the poll, 60-80% of the American public.

Oh, it's all a great big mess, isn't it? Happy to admit that I root for lower rates and a revision of the rulebook -- but what I'm cheering for first is a vigorous, open debate.

Is it strange, as some apparently think, to consider the topic so urgently important?

Well, not if you think such topics as welfare and affirmative action are important ones to revisit. Why? Because the programs of the Great Society and current immigration policies were all manifestations of the same grandiose '60s impulse. It may be that they were meant well; but it may also be that they've turned into gigantic boondoggles in need of reform.

Consider a few passages from the Timothy Taylor economic history of America in the 20th century lecture series that I've been citing over the last few weeks. Taylor is about as decent, humane, fair-minded, and nonpartisan as can be; I could be wrong, but my guess is that he's a cautious Democrat. In any case, he's a moderate something-or-other, in favor of solid basic education, fretting a bit about inequalities, reducing deficits, lower taxes, and higher spending on R&D.

As an economic historian, he brings a lot of perspective to bear on the topic. What's to be learned from him? Well, in his discussion of the 1960s, Taylor treats changes in immigration policy as one of the decade's key events, right alongside the Civil Rights Act and the Vietnam War.

Here's a (slightly edited) transcript of how Taylor summarizes the immigration boondoggle.

We last talked about immigration back in the 1920s when there were harsh restrictions put into place. At that time, there was a system that set up quotas based on the number of people in the country already of that national origin.

In the spirit of the Civil Rights Act, this kind of racial categorizing seemed unjust and unreasonable, so a new system is put in its place. It abolishes the quotas for each individual country and instead sets up an overall global limit for immigration from all over the world.

There are many reassurances at the time that this will be much less discriminatory. There were also a lot of reassurances that this wouldn't have a big impact either on the number of immigrants or on where they were coming from. The main way of selecting immigrants was now going to be on the basis of family ties. That has a nice humanitarian sound. We were going to encourage people to let their parents or siblings come.

Now, it's just a fact that all this did not work out as was promised by the supporters of the 1965 immigration bill. Immigration levels go up sharply. Instead of being about 250,000 a year, which was common at that time, imimigration levels in recent years have sometimes reached almost a million a year. The source of the immigration has also changed drastically. It's no longer mainly European. Instead, it's now heavily from Latin America and to some extent from Asia.

It's also true that as we shifted towards family reunification, the skill level of the immigrants has changed sharply. We have many more low-skilled immigrants than we had before. And instead of the old rules -- which were, you had to have a job before you got here -- we now have people showing up who don't have jobs and don't have a lot of skills. We also begin to have intergenerational grapevines of families coming. Someone comes over, then they invite their parents; and because the parents are here you can invite the other siblings; then you can invite their spouses, and then their parents.

The effects of all this take some time to become clear. But by the late '80s and '90s, it's a substantial argument in the US labor market about whether we've messed up our immigration affairs in some way. And in any case, it's clear that immigration reform in the 1960s was adopted without a clear sense of what was likely to happen.

This is economic history -- points and facts that aren't disputable, try though the stonewallers will to dispute them. Instead, it's with these facts and this background that the conversation needs to begin.

And what is Taylor's professional-economist's view of what to do? He says that current immigration policy (and lack of enforcement) is terribly hard on border states, and possibly a slight gain for the rest of the country. But in pure economic terms, he says, "overall, my guess is that it's a wash."

In other words, decisions about what to do about immigration rates and rules have to be based on something other than dollars and sense. "These are decisions that have got to go well beyond economic factors," Taylor says. They've got to be based on our preferences. And how do we discover our preferences if not by openly discussing them?

Taylor's terrific lecture series can be bought here.



UPDATE: Randall Parker takes note of lots of state-level action on immigration, here. Are the grass roots making their preferences known?

UPDATE 2: In this good piece here for National Review Online, Mark Krikorian of the let's-lower-immigration-rates Center for Immigration Studies writes about the kinds of fury and accusations thrown at him by both the right and the left. Check out the affiliations of some of those high-immigration-rates advocates! Horrifyingly wonderful and enlightening passage:

Nor is Rep. Cannon the only high-immigration Republican to be lionized by a left-wing racial-identity group. When Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was in the Senate, he was the leader of the high-immigration tendency among Republicans. For his services, he received, on March 5, 1997, the "Defender of the Melting Pot" award from the National Council of La Raza. La Raza (which means "The Race" in Spanish) is another organization essentially created by the Ford Foundation, enjoying its largesse to the tune of more than $32 million since 1968. As Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out, if the group were named der Nationalrat das Volk, and lobbied for pan-German racial identity, it wouldn't get the time of day in polite society.
posted by Michael at April 21, 2004


"For instance, they have already had the effect of pushing our African-American population out of its traditional position as the country's biggest minority. American blacks, when told about this, say in large numbers (and understandably) that they're upset this has happened."

Honest question: why? Why do they feel that way, and how would that impact the argument on immigration one way or another? I mean, forgive me, but it sounds like they are aware of some "special priveleges" of that status and are afraid the gravy train might go away, or elsewhere? Is that it? Coz...that's exactly the attitude that might continue a certain racisim. (I know you've said before that African Americans presence in our culture has added a certain irreplaceable spice to the mix, but it can still do that even if they aren't the "largest" minority). It's like a woman being all upset that she's no longer the only woman in the Executive Suite, and they don't need her for "tokenism" anymore, and, gosh, she's not so special and might actually have to work for a living. That would be dismissed as childish and selfish. Why wouldn't the initial argument, then? (BTW, saying they are upset "when told about this" has a whole host of less-than-flattering connotations).

I know, I know, the post is on immigration. Well, it just seems to make sense to me to require someone be employable, and legal, and healthy, to come here.

What I wonder is how much of this does, in fact, have to do with the fact that so much immigration is Hispanic, and Asian, which may feel "different" to us. What if the huge influx was from Britain and The Netherlands, say? What if they all had blue eyes? Would it make any difference? Even if they brought with them the whole raft of economic challenges, etc. that the current mix brings? Are we sure there is no racisim?

Posted by: annette on April 21, 2004 8:55 PM

As a native daughter of the great state of Texas, I can tell you that illegal aliens and immigration is a big topic here. I don't care to re-fight the Alamo, but I know that unless the borders are tightened, the whole population of the state will shift, and the process is already underway. Is that bad? I guess it would depend on your viewpoint. Are there jobs that "Americans" just won't take? I supposed the bottom line is truly the "bottom line". Most Americans would not opt for hard labor at the rates the green carders accept. I feel ashamed at wanting tighter borders, but at the same time, I feel my own state is losing ground with both legal and illegal immigration from Mexico.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 21, 2004 9:25 PM

Annette -- It's just a terribly messy subject, isn't it? But the less-than-savory people and motives exist no matter which direction you look in: businesspeople wanting cheap labor, politicians wanting voters, white racists resenting any change, but also left racists playing various race cards. Given that, I don't think it's possible for the issues to be resolved except by the country openly thinking out loud about what it wants to be like. Such questions as: how big a population do we want? How drastically can we monkey with a traditional ethnic mix before it starts to get dangerous? Does it make any sense to have huge immigration when we have a welfare state (ie., when we're essentially paying them to immigrate)? Has the time perhaps come to tighten up for a while and regain some kind of equilibrium? These were conversations that for some reason were much easier to have in earlier eras, I'm not sure why. Maybe people were less touchy about such topics. I put the bit about African-Americans learning about what had happened that way because it in fact came as a big surprise to many of them, as I think it did to many people generally. It was never explained that this was going to happen -- that the Latino population would grow so large that it would become more important numerically than the black population. If that had been openly explained early on, at the time of the 1965 immigration act, I doubt many people would have supported it. As I understand it, many blacks feel as though yet another one has been put over on them -- "we got uppity and made demands, so they imported a lot of Latinos and made us less politically important than we were," that's apparently the feeling. I think I'd feel something similar if I were black.

Pattie -- Curious to hear more about what things are like down your way. It's an awkward position to be in, isn't it? I mean, we all mean everyone well and hope everyone will prosper. Yet it's absurd to think that a modern nation can function without decently-policed borders.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 21, 2004 11:19 PM

"Less than savory" motives---sigh, I must agree. They do always exist. It's like every time someone proposes a new policy, I now find myself thinking "So what is this really about?" "What isn't he/she saying?"

But you are right, the level of public discourse in this subject and many others is really zero. It's like all the conversations BEGIN with people assuming that the bigger-picture questions have already been resolved, and we're all just talking details. And, you know what, I really DO blame the media (including the Tim Russert types) for that. They have the only truly national public forums that exist. And they make them so small.

But...I must admit...elitist and snobby as this sounds...I think new citizens who come to this country should have a better than fifty/fifty probability of making life here better, not worse, and not just for themselves. Healthy, legal, employable, and motivated to do that, and not, you know, blow up Americans.

Posted by: annette on April 22, 2004 9:30 AM

Annette -- You write, "It's like every time someone proposes a new policy, I now find myself thinking "So what is this really about?" "What isn't he/she saying?""

Talk about wisdom! And what a good way to put it. It isn't like that kind of learning comes easy, is it? And I couldn't agree with you more that the media deserve some blame for this. After all, "the media" is where 99% of the public conversation takes place these days. Bizarre, isn't it, the way some legit topics (corporate-finance scandals) attain ongoing-coverage status and some (immigration) don't? I'm surprised that the people who make the big media decisions aren't more resourceful and opportunistic, simply from a biz point of view. Many Americans feel strongly one way or the other about immigration, for instance. So why not foreground the issue? People would certainly respond, and whether they respond to the coverage happily or angrily it really doesn't matter, at least not from a ratings p-o-v. I'm not sure whether this failure to foreground certain issues has more to with bias (most media people are leftish, and like to think that they're doing the world some good and promoting good causes), or with herd-behavior and simple lack of resourcefulness (no one else is covering immigration, so therefore I don't either). A bit of each, probably.

I could be all wet, but something that occurs to me is how much simpler the discussion about immigration would be if people did what you just did -- instead of attacking each others' motives (as though that's going to lead to something other than a hate-filled standoff) they presented their preferences. I think the pro-current-policies crowd would then have to say, for instance, that they're actually advocating a country that's much more crowded than it is today, and whose ethnic balance is pretty dramatically different than it is today, and the character of whose southwest is very very different than it has been, etc etc. We've seen what current policies lead to, and people who think they're great should be made to 'fess up that they like the results and want more such. On the other hand, people who want to see current policies changed should admit up front what kind of future America they'd like to see. I'm happy to admit, for instance, that the country's plenty crowded enough for my tastes -- my policy prefs come partly from my feeling, "enough with the population growth already."

As Timothy Taylor points out, the issue can't be decided on purely economic grounds (not that such issues ever should be, but Americans do tend to decide an awful lot on pure dollars-and-cents grounds, sigh). He says that moneywise it may be a slight plus, it may be a slight minus -- but basically "it's a wash." So we're going to have to wrestle with non-economic preferences in order to wrestle with the issue at all. Which I think is a great thing...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 22, 2004 10:15 AM

This is a very tricky subject, indeed. Texas, especially, has had a bloody past with Mexico, and old stereotypes and habits die hard. Like other border states, our culture is greatly influenced by our long history with our southern neighbors.

I do think, it is impossible to remove the economic side from the equation. The current maquiladora plants now number over 3 thousand. The economically active populationís growth in Mexico leaves 15 million workers per year without feasible employment -per year. Mexico would have to grow at 10% annually to absorb these workers. Combine that with the declining fertility rates and advancing age of the US population, and you see the kinetics. Furthermore, these maquiladora plants employ mostly younger women, and pay them a wage that will not support a spouse and children. Mexican families have to structure their households to include multiple wage earners ( not too unlike the US family, I might add), thus increasing the illegal flow into the US. Without this low cost labor, the US would not have had the sustained economic expansion it has experienced over the last few decades, and the loss of the lost cost labor would indeed add a serious increase of inflation. Native Texans gripe that Mexican workers take away American jobs, but in truth, if companies were forced to hire only American citizens, the resulting price for goods would hit every household, and not only in border states. So, in a nutshell, Americans want our cake and eat it too. We see the illegal worker as a necessary evil, and keep him politically disenfranchised.

I believe the US will have to consider a unique binational policy with Mexico. After all, Mexico is our neighbor, and has deep historical ties to the US, and moreover, they are a member of NAFTA. Other countries will criticize us as favoring Mexico in regards to immigration, but the US must address this issue and soon. Problem is, once we have an agreement in place, wonít wages begin to rise in the manufacturing and farming sectors? Once we give citizenship/legal status to the Mexican worker, what country will fill the need for low-cost wages? Will this give rise to a two-tiered society and mean the death of the middle class? More important to me, will Texas lose its final battle for independence from Mexico? And even though I profess to be "liberal", like Michael, I dread the population explosion that will result. I am actively seeking a deserted mountain top in the southwestern desert!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 22, 2004 10:45 AM

I guess my feeling is that if the dramatic economic expansion only happened because of the use of illegal workers then maybe it shouldn't have happened, or not with the speed it did. I mean, we could use prisoners to work free, but we decided as a country we didn't want to do that. And why wouldn't we do that rather than employ foreigners at a less-than-living wage.

The need for multiple incomes in a Mexican household just does not seem to be to be a priority concern for the U.S. Maybe the Mexican government needs to address birth control and only having "families" that one can afford to have rather than thinking we in the U.S. somehow need to solve the problem by providing employment. The current arrangement seems to me to just allow the Mexican government to avoid dealing with it.

Posted by: annette on April 22, 2004 1:09 PM

I wasn't saying that the Mexican family multiple income need was a necessary priority in the US, only pointing to it as a possible reason for the increased flow of illegal immigration. Mexico does not take care of its own - we all know that. Why should they when America seems willing to shoulder the responsiblity for their poor social structure?

If I were brutally honest with myself, I would admit to having a very "isolationist" point of view, not unlike the spoiled child who doesn't want to share toys. I love my American life, and don't welcome a change to my culture, my income, or my security. And I am honest enough to admit, I really don't like sharing America with "outsiders" at all, including all nationalities. Not a particularly pretty point of view, but an honest one.

And as an agnostic, you don't want me to get started on the evils of the Catholic church!

Thanks, Michael, for the platform to vent. I feel better, sir!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 22, 2004 1:33 PM

I don't think that the economic side of the equation can be ignored when it comes to immigration. It may be true that immigration is a wash or even a small net benefit overall, but I don't think it's fair to lump a $150,000 a year tech worker with an $8 an hour fast food worker with five kids as both "immigrants."

Unskilled immigration is almost certainly hurting us--unskilled immigrants pay very little if anything at all in taxes (some may even effectively pay negative income taxes with the Earned Income Tax Credit); illegal aliens are often paid in cash. It is typical for unskilled immigrants to have 3-4 kids, and education alone costs $7,000 per kid, per year, and that does not even take into account health care, housing assitance, or other benefits and services (including unavoidable costs such as law enforcement, roads, and new or expanded federal, state, and local government agencies to handle additional people).

Posted by: Matt W. on April 22, 2004 2:05 PM

I have absolutely no hope that we're going to see any immigration policy that doesn't involve continued mass immigration of low-skill labor. May as well focus on beating down the multi-culti set to ensure that those who come get assimilated.

Posted by: Twn on April 22, 2004 2:27 PM


I can't really comment on US immigration issues, not having the knowledge to do so, nor any right to tell you how to run your country, but I did just want to make a quick comment on the situation in the UK.

You say there is an "immigration and multiculturalism" crisis here. That is not true in any objective sense, although it must be said that if you were to read some sections our press (not renowned for their accuracy) you might get a different impression.

Two things have caused controvery recently: the government has lost control over the process used to admit refugees to the country, and is struggling to regain it; and there has been some street fighting between white and south asian muslim youths in the northeast of England (an economically depressed area).

Multiculturalism is not really a serious issue here. Only 10% of the population belongs to an ethnic minority anyway. There is no legal positive discrimination for jobs or university places. Seperate schools are frowned on, and do not receive state funding (Jewish schools are a historical exception, I think). Languages other than English are recognised for government purposes, but not used in schools (except Welsh, Scots Gaelic, and probably Irish Gaelic and Ulster Scots by now). There is ghettoisation in big cities - Birmingham and London in particular, and Bradford is essentially one big (south) asian ghetto. But three of the largest groups - blacks from the carribean, non-muslim Indians from India and Africa, and ethnic Chinese from various places - are now largely well assimilated. There are groups of new migrants (Kurds, Albanians and so on), in London, but they are very small. The only group that might pose a problem are muslims from Pakistan and India - I'm not sure why that is. The rioting in the NE was in part stirred up by the BNP - a thuggish nationalist part - who profited from it at local council elections. The problem, if it is a problem, is on nothing like the scale of the one France has with Algerians, though.

The "asylum issue" is real, but vastly exaggerated in the newspapers and in people's minds. Until very recently, legal immigration into the UK was impossible for people who were not highly skilled, and yet the country has a great need for unskilled and semi-skilled labour that cannot be filled locally - we have a moderately generous welfare state and a population which is not growing. Migrants realised that they could get to the channel coast relatively easily, hide in goods lorries for the ferry or train crossing, and then claim poltical asylum from the authorities on this side. Having done that they could lose themselves in their ethnic communities and although their cases for asylum would end up being denied, the government would never be able to find them to deport them. There was an enormous fuss about this in certain newspapers, but it applies only to a few thousand people a year in reality - there are only 100,000 refugees in the whole country.

The government has responded in two ways. It has stepped up attempts to integrate immigrants, by teaching English to adults, and holding (rather vomit-inducing, but well-intentioned) citizenship ceremonies. This is rather un-British - we are not a creedal nation, after all - but its fair enough, I suppose. On the other hand, it has opened up channels for legal migration while trying to make the asylum process harder to abuse. The latter has not been entirely a good thing - genuine refugees have ended up prevented from working and without state welfare.

Anyway - just trying to point out that the nature of what is happening here bears little resemblance to what is happening there.

Posted by: Simon Kinahan on April 22, 2004 4:11 PM

Many thanks Simon, that's very helpful and much appreciated.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 22, 2004 4:14 PM

The problem with simply hoping that we will assimilate unskilled immigrants is that it's not working. Even fourth-generation Mexican-Americans have low levels of education. Hispanics as a whole are doing horribly in terms of income. The median household income per member is only about $12,000 for Hispanics (a crude proxy for unskilled immigrants and their children), about half of white and Asian incomes and still even 20 percent below the median household income per capita for blacks. I don't see unskilled immigrants assimilating anytime soon, especially with a constant influx of new unskilled immigrants to keep wages down for unskilled workers. Therefore, it is critical that unskilled immigration be greatly reduced.

Posted by: Matt W. on April 22, 2004 5:30 PM

NAFTA is not a suicide pact. Trading with a country does not mean our borders are open for everyone to work and live here.
The borders need better patrolling. We must be humane about it, but the unchecked flow of unskilled, uneducated, impoverished population overflow from the south must be curtailed.

Posted by: Miguel on April 22, 2004 7:10 PM

Here's my cold hearted, systems analyst's view of how to arrive at a solution: we should examine what fertility rate mix and future tax base we will need to expand the population at the right rate to fund future (i.e. Boomer :-) Medicare and Social Security liabilities, and with the addition of prefering skilled immigrants, adjust the tax-base and fertility/population inflows to keep that pay-as-you-go tax base growing at the right rate: not too fast and not too slow, with the right mix of highly skilled and high breeding population inflows.

Oh, and change Affirmative Action programs to all be based soley on financial status, thereby switching it to compensating for class and not race.

That's what the social engineering technocrat part of me would do.

From what I've seen with my own eyes in Mexico, NAFTA has been a huge success story, and should be used as a foundation for getting our immigration under control. Mexicans would actually seem to prefer to have better jobs and infrastructure and stay in their own country. That was my feeling on the ground in Nogales over the last few years, and in Mexico City a few years ago too.

Parts of how NAFTA has worked in it's nuts and bolts aren't widely reported or known. Most importantly was that for the first period of years when investment in maqui's was opened up, that products were only allowed to be manufactured for export. Around 2000-ish (I'd have to look it up) production output opened for domestic sale, and real standards of living have gone up noticably. Cheap electronics and other consumer goods that are made domestically have started to flood the market in certain sectors.

The factories I saw the inside of were the cleanest, neatest shop floor's I'd ever seen. It was somebody's birthday one day, and we had tons of leftover taco's from the party, which is when we talked most about non-technical things with the non-anglo staff there. They were very happy to have decent, safe jobs in Mexico, and not have to risk starving working in agriculture in the interior (of Mexico) as dirt farmers, or have to risk illegal entry to the US and all it's attendant stresses and risks. And they were very proud of Mexicans finally getting somewhere with their developement internally.

Oh the weird places you go as a computer consultant!

Posted by: David Mercer on April 23, 2004 6:44 AM

David Mercer, You assume that immigrants will help fund Medicare and Social Security. This is a false assumption with regard to Hispanic Immigrants. There are immigrants who are generating net more costs for everyone else.

In order to pay for the retirees what we need are very high income immigrants who pay the bulk of the taxes. Even the average income person may be a net receiver of benefits over their entire lifetime due to old age costs.

I'm not sure if HTML a href tags are turned on on this blog. So maybe my embedded links won't show. You can also click on my name there and then go into my various immigration category archives for more economic arguments on immigration.

Posted by: Randall Parker on April 23, 2004 2:50 PM

I think there are two ways of looking at immigration: the purely economical point of view and the human perspective. On one hand, you can say that a large amount of unskilled workers and superpopulation might cause some problems. On the other hand, these people who come here generally live a miserable life in their native countries and with no hope of improvement. It's hard to impede a person of coming into the US when you think about this.

Posted by: Rod on April 23, 2004 7:36 PM

What a long post to state absolutely nothing, something to the effect of we should talk about immigration, those who favour it are blocking us, yet no debate as to substantive policies regarding immigration is even alluded to. I think this blog does best when it keeps to stellar ability and speciality, culture. Leaves the economics of immigration and labour to economists, they can veil this discussion without sounding like arbitrary biggots.

Posted by: Nicolas on April 23, 2004 7:44 PM

HOO! I geuss Nicolas put you in YOUR place! I'm sure you appreciate the feedback on what you do best!

Posted by: annette on April 24, 2004 11:02 AM

Good to see such a wide range of info, stories, thinking -- many thanks. It seems to me obvious that the topic's on a lot of minds. I wonder how long it'll be before it starts publicly surfacing with more regularity.

Nicolas -- Sorry to disappoint. I'll skip defending myself. But I'm surprised you didn't find the material from Timothy Taylor interesting.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 24, 2004 12:30 PM


I see several problems with the "humanitarian" perspective on immigration. First, if our concern is humanitarianism, why do we allow a vastly disproportionate number of immigrants in from a country (Mexico) that is not all that poor by world standards? And why do we base our immigration policy on "family reunification," i.e. nepotism? How can one justify, from a humanitarian perspective, giving a Mexican peasant with family in the U.S. a vastly greater opportunity to immigrate than a Chinese peasant with no family here, who is probably worse off than the Mexican peasant?

The "humanitarian" perspecive also has some other problems--for example, large amounts of low-skill immigration will lower the wages of low-skill American citizens, particularly blacks and Hispanic U.S. citizens who are disproportiontely low-skill.

Note also that Hispanics in the U.S. are even poorer than blacks in terms of median household income per household member (the figure is about $15K for blacks and $12K for Hispanics--it is probably even worse for Mexican-Americans, who are generally a bit worse off than other Hispanics). This makes me question how beneficial immigration to the U.S. is for most unskilled immigrants independent of taxpayer-funded services.

Posted by: Matt W. on April 24, 2004 6:19 PM

Leaves the economics of immigration and labour to economists, they can veil this discussion without sounding like arbitrary biggots.

If you question our current immigration policy, you are a bigot. Now there's a sophisticated argument for you.

Seriously, though, I'm sure there people who don't like our immigration policy who are racists. But almost any cause will attract unsavory types. Many on the pro-mass unskilled immigration side simply want cheap, subsidized labor for big business, or cheap votes for Democrats and for leftist causes. I'm sure there are also racists on the pro-immigration side--don't tell me that there aren't racists in groups like La Raza, MALDEF, or especially MEChA.

Frankly, the "racist" or "bigot" argument when it comes to the immigration is simply a waste of time. It addresses neither the costs nor the benefits of immigration, which is the real issue--and it seems pretty clear to me that mass unskilled immigration has some pretty big costs.

Posted by: Matt W. on April 24, 2004 6:33 PM

Frankly, the "racist" or "bigot" argument when it comes to the immigration is simply a waste of time.

Should be "...when it comes to the immigration issue is simply a waste of time"

Posted by: Matt W. on April 24, 2004 11:02 PM

Randall, I'm not soley concerned with tax base, you'll note I talked about how to find a balance between optimising the tax base AND it's future growth, which is primarily driven by fertility rates.

If skilled immigrants have similar fertility rates to native citizens of similar financial position, we still might end up in bind Europe is going to hit before us with social welfare spending.

The question is how fast do immigrants integrate economically. I'd think larger than US sized immigrant families who integrate economically and climb into the middle class fairly quickly in generational terms are the ideal.

Non-assimilating immigrant pockets are one end of the problem, too low of fertility skilled immigrants past the age where they will pay in more taxes than take out when they are old are the other.

My technocratic methodology I attempted to communicate above was that we need to numerically quantify those relations, and can then use that to set optimal criteria for our immigration mix.

To me it seems obvious on it's face that we are allowing in too many unskilled immigrants, and allowing them to settle in unassimilating pockets (I live in Tucson few christ sakes!), and not positively biasing our criteria for those with useful skills.

So yeah, I think we need to curb entry of Mexican nationals, digest the chunck we've swallowed, and encourage economic development in Mexico so they'll have less reason to want to leave.

Posted by: David Mercer on April 24, 2004 11:23 PM

I don't have time to treat this subject with the seriousness and length it deserves, but I'll comment with a few notes, and maybe contribute another comment later.

First I haven't noticed much in the way of a stifling of debate on the subject. After the census I wrote a guest editorial
for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about
the changes in demographics in Atlanta and
its effects on my urban southeast Atlanta neighborhoods. It was largely a
feelgood human interest sort of article.

The print edition had barely hit the streets when I received a call from an earnest, somewhat strident young woman who evidently has a leading role in the anti-immigration group here.
She informed me that I was helping to destroy both Western Civilization and the U.S. economy. I weakly argued the point with her until she ran out of short term zeal, and thanked her for the call.

I get many mundane benefits from the flood of immigration to the Atlanta area.

For one thing the quality, quantity and variety of fresh produce
here has improved remarkably. The Korean owner of what had been your basic
independent food-stamps driven grocery store hired a team of Mexican grocers who approached their task with a fanaticism I normally associate with religious wars. The bins which had served as coffins for a sad collection of composting vegetable remnants filled with neat rows of not only those vegetables familiar to most Americans, but with jicama, chayote, tomatillos, and dozens of other vegetables common in Mexican cuisine.

Another benefit is ample opportunity to practice my Spanish. Of course I'd get a similar benefit if the area was flooded with Magyars or Uzbeks, but I believe there is a lot to be said for the ability to communicate with one's international neighbors, and English speaking people have been historically smug in that respect.

And then there's music. Good mariachi
with the tuba rather than the electric bass has become widely available here.

And I can't forget sports. Three parks within walking distance of my house host
frequent soccer matches. The skill of the participants is impressive and the games are exciting.

I see a different downside to the immigration than most. The main problem I see is the growth of a disenfranchised
population. This situation could have long term explosive effects.

Of course there are two possible broad solutions to this. Block the borders, or make them citizens as rapidly as possible. I prefer the latter.

Posted by: Larry Felton Johnson on April 25, 2004 9:13 AM

Another reason that immigrants are not needed with declining population is that there are fewer children with declining populations. There are two groups of people who need support from society, the old and the young.

If retirement age is kept so that retires are supported for about 22 years; the same length of time as children are supported; then a declining population (e.g. Japan which shows no sign of accepting immigrants) will have no problems.

Posted by: Robert Hume on April 26, 2004 9:19 PM

It is true that there are many moderate positions on immigration which should be treated with respect, but which have been unfairly derided by scholars and officials with hidden interests in social conflict. Abstractly, there are only two radical positions on immigration: zero or unlimited. Both of these are obviously traitorously disadvantageous; therefore it is only the moderate (in comparison to the above) positions which may reasonably be considered. Several comments above gave incorrect figures on incomes; it is personal, not household, incomes which are far below the median with (80's and more recent) immigrants. This causes the massive net public subsidy to recent immigration cohorts which shows up when public school costs for their children are included. Major studies have deliberately excluded this and other net public subsidies to foreigners in the country; but 11-odd million such students at over $8,400 a year is $100 billion a year. A country borrowing $500billion a year from outside can't reasonably continue foreign aid programs of this magnitude; could you borrow money from the bank in order to support non-profit giveaways?

Posted by: john s bolton on May 3, 2004 2:05 AM

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