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June 01, 2006

More Immigration

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson notices that only 17% of Americans want legal immigration rates increased, and that the Senate just crafted a bill that would take current immigration rates and double them. Then Samuelson asks why the mainstream media aren't doing a better job of letting the public know how brazenly their preferences are being defied. Why indeed? Some interesting facts:

No one can contend that the United States needs expanded immigration to prevent the population from shrinking. Our population is aging but not shrinking. With present immigration policies, the Census Bureau projects a U.S. population of 420 million in 2050, up from 296 million in 2005. Under the Senate bill, the figure for 2050 would expand by many millions. Another dubious argument is that much higher immigration would dramatically improve economic growth. From 2007 to 2016, the Senate bill might increase the economy's growth rate by about 0.1 percentage point annually, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. That's tiny; it's a rounding error.

So much for the idea that we need more immigrants ...

* Thomas Sowell argues that the Senate's bill will give illegals more rights than everyday Americans have. So much for the idea that the Senate's bill has anything to do with fairness ...

* Labor Party loyalist David Goodhart thinks that sensible people need to recognize that governments should look out for their own citizens first. (Link thanks to Faute de Pire.)

The interests of British citizens, of all colours and creeds, must come first. This may seem obvious, but it often conflicts with the assumptions of the internationalist left, the business elite, and the xenophobic right ... We may have obligations to all humanity but we have a much more special relationship with fellow citizens. We need borders to protect that specialness.

So much for the idea that stances vis a vis immigration policy have much to do with traditional left/right divisions ...

* Steve Sailer summarizes the policies of the Bush administration very effectively in only eleven words:

- Invade the world
- Invite the world
- In hock to the world

So much for the idea that the Bushies represent the real America ...



UPDATE: John Derbyshire's reaction to the Senate bill strikes me as exactly what the bill deserves.

posted by Michael at June 1, 2006


I had never looked at Sailer's site. It's so incredibly weird to see the man billing himself as head of the "Human Biodiversity Institute", probably the most Orwellian --in the worst sense of the term--title I've seen in a long while, while quoting Orwell right above.

Old George must be turning in his grave.

Posted by: Andrew on June 1, 2006 4:39 PM

Samuelson asks why the mainstream media aren't doing a better job of letting the public know how brazenly their preferences are being defied.

That is kind of a goofy question, especially in the context of that Pew study. I wonder: what fraction of the people who answered the poll had any idea how much immigration we have now? And how many of these mostly-uninformed views are strongly held?

Maybe it's not a big issue because most people don't care all that much and even if they have an opinion they don't mind letting congress decide for them.

What Samuelson seems to want is a closed loop in which once people get their opinions from the media having "raised a fuss" in the past, we can use those opinions to justifying the media raising a new fuss now. Oh, and we get to raise fusses any time any bill is passed in either house that doesn't yet perfectly align with the majority opinion. Weird.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on June 1, 2006 6:19 PM

Andrew -- It is a funny name, isn't it? But I urge you to give Sailer some tries. I think he's really valuable -- he's smart and courageous, and he regularly raises a lot of questions that the MSM shy from.

Glen -- A big majority of Americans don't want immigration levels increased. What's so hard to understand about that?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 1, 2006 6:35 PM

What's hard to understand is why Samuelson (or you) think the Senate should care. Senators were given long terms because they are are supposed to have long time horizons and not be driven by the wild random swings of public opinion. It is by design that the senate largely ignores popular opinion. That's a feature, not a bug.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on June 1, 2006 7:26 PM

Glen -- Concern about immigration policy and dislike of high numbers is anything but "wild and random." It's been a steady feature of public opinion for a long time now. Glad to know that you think our Wise Old Men are looking out for our long-term good, though -- as opposed to, say, themselves, the wellbeing of the Democratic Party, and the profits of Republican plutocrats.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 1, 2006 7:34 PM

I found Samuelson quite organized and able to bring in some good points for serious consideration, i.e., the generation of natural born citizens that come from the illegal immigration populace. So it looks like jobs in jeopardy include more than picking oranges. I really wish we could be more accomodating to the legal poor first.

Sailer's a regular read for me; though I don't always agree, he does show an intelligent knowledge of his topics.

The only problem is that we need to see all the pros and cons, from both sides, and somebody intelligent has to weigh them and do what's best for the people of this country. There's enough here to keep them busy enough to maybe keep them from sticking their noses into the business of other countries.

Posted by: susan on June 1, 2006 7:58 PM

Even if concerns about immigration were a constant, which immigrants are perceived as a problem and why tends to change over time. A longer time horizon could lead one to recognize that the current concerns constitute a social panic in response to perceived change. Wait a few years for people to get used to the change, and the fear will go away; we'll move on to being paranoid about something else. Maybe "glue sniffing" or "killer bees" will make a comeback. Or we'll find some entrely new ethnic group to demonize.

Public opinion has a big bias in favor of the status quo such that I expect we'd get the same numbers for "about the same" no matter what absolute level of immigration is allowed.

As for the Senate, they might be looking out for our long-term good in accordance with the advice they are getting from informed experts (hey, it could happen!) or they might not but the opinions of Joe Public doesn't constitute evidence either way.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on June 1, 2006 8:28 PM

susan: the phrase "jobs in jeopardy" implies that there are only a fixed number of jobs in the world. That jobs are like cubbyholes and each nation only has so many. Is that really what you believe?

If so, where did all the jobs come from initially? How is it that the number of jobs here has grown roughly in proportion to the number of people wanting to work for the last, oh, two centuries? How did the employment rate stay constant while farming enough food for all went from needing 90% of the population to needing 2%?

Once you grant that people bring jobs with them when they move or are newly born, immigration stops seeming like a problem for the legal poor. Instead, it's an opportunity.

The more low-skill workers there are, the more viable business opportunities exist that involve hiring low-skill workers. Which means more opportunities to work and climb the economic ladder, both for the immigrants and the natives. Letting more immigrants in is accomodating the native poor.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on June 1, 2006 9:05 PM

Regarding Samuelson's article, from the moment I read it something seemed wrong. How could you have such a huge number of immigrants and only raise annual growth by 0.1%? Even if you assume that immigrants are less productive (a reasonable statement), the latter number seemed way to low.

Well, I checked the CBO study he cited. At the very least, Samuelson missrepresented the numbers.

The CBO has two scenarios, which depend basically on the impact of the additional immigrants (those that would come in over and above the level currently contemplated in the law) on savings and investment. The low scenario would raise GDP by 0.3% each year between 2007-11 and by 0.8% between 2012-16. The high scenario estimates raise GDP by 0.4% and 1.3% for those two periods.

Bear in mind that the bill would raise the labor force by 3.4 million by 2016, or about 2%. And the CBO estimates that additional legal immigration would add up to 7.8 million people by 2016 (not the 20 million Samuelson cites).

Bottom-line: In 10 years, the bill would raise the U.S. labor force by 2% and add around 1% to GDP. These numbers are hardly dramatic, but 1% of GDP translates to roughly 110 billion dollars (at today's prices), hardly a rounding error.

Oh, and by the way, the CBO estimates the impact of these additional immigrants on federal spending and revenues. Surprisingly, it turns out that in 7 out of 10 years, it would generate more revenues thant costs. Thus, by 2016, the annual cost would be 10.8 billion and the revenues would be at 13.6 billion.

I used to respect Samuelson, but after this little excercise, at least on this issue he's just another biased hack.

Posted by: Andrew on June 1, 2006 9:18 PM

Glen -- I'm speechless. I've never run into an anarcho-capitalist with such faith in the sagacity of the Senate!

Andrew -- Interesting figures, thanks. I'd love to hear Samuelson describe his own way of looking at the CBO figures. I doubt he's a partisan hack, btw. He has taken all kinds of unexpected (and often tough) positions on all kinds of topics over the years. He's a hard one to slot.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 1, 2006 9:39 PM

The more low-skill workers there are, the more viable business opportunities exist that involve hiring low-skill workers. Which means more opportunities to work and climb the economic ladder, both for the immigrants and the natives.

(1) Funny, I don't see too many low-skilled natives climbing the economic ladder by working in restaurant jobs or as hotel maids or in construction here in Los Angeles.

(2) Low-skilled immigrants get the same package of government goods and services as everybody else, currently running in excess of $10,000 per capita at the Federal level alone. Funny thing is, you have to earn more than low-skilled jobs pay in order to contribute that much in taxes, especially if you're raising a family. As a result, I have to pay several times the $50,000 in taxes that my family of five is theoretically consuming. (Of course, my family isn't actually consuming anything like that amount as we're not eligible for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or other transfer payments, but that's another issue.)

The truth is that the "jobs" being "brought in" (?) by such workers are heavily subsidized by natives; someone making $5 an hour is receiving a subsidy equal to at least 100% of the value they are adding to the economy. This works well for them, and well for their employers in the agricultural, restaurant, hotel, (etc.) industries, but strangely I don't see it working much in my favor.

It's not just the native poor who pay the price for low-skilled immigrants. You seem to completely miss the fact that we live in a welfare state.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 1, 2006 9:47 PM

As regards the CBO estimates, I'm intrigued to see them projecting that 7.8 million people will require only $10.8 billion in federal spending. How does the Federal government manage to spend $8,600 per capita on the rest of us (do the math, divide FY 2006 Federal spending of $2.568 trillion by the total number of U.S. citizens, 298 million) but only $1380 per capita on low-skilled immigrants eligible for all sorts of transfer payments? I'd also like to see a full "lifetime" analysis of what the impacts will be of such low-wage immigrants when they start drawing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

This analysis, of course, doesn't take into account state spending, which is where much of the costs of such immigrants will land.

Moreover, why do you assume that the CBO is capable of delivering accurate estimates of the number of immigrants that will come in under the Senate bill? I seem to remember a widely touted estimate that Medicare would only cost $10 billion a year...when the program was being debated in the Senate.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 1, 2006 10:10 PM

Sorry, above I claim that government spending is running above $10,000 per capita at the Federal level alone. My bad; it only reaches this number when you add in state and local spending.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 1, 2006 10:21 PM


Yes, you've got a point. All estimates of this sort should be treated with extreme caution and will likely be wrong. That said, I don't see much bias in the CBO's numbers and they're pretty consistent with other numbers I've seen. And, yes, I also agree that the present value of revenues/expenditures will likely be negatve.

But you miss the larger point. Most Americans (that is, native-born) think immigrants come here to lap up the benefits offered by the welfare state. This is, by any measure, patently false. And illegals only have access to a few services (education up to high school, emergency medical attention).

That's why this debate drives me nuts. It's all stereotypes, prejudices and particular agendas. The few facts mentioned are usually false or totally manipulated. Whatever your take on this issue, it's the far right who's usually far more guilty of this crime.

For example, in an interview given to the local news by a spokesman for the Minutemen. He said with a straight face that 24,000 illegals crossed the border each day. Wild exageration cannot begin to describe this number, which implies that nearly 9 million illegals come each year (the actual number lies, by most estmates, between 500,000 and 1 million, and probably on the lower end of that range).

While this mostly shows that local news is about as trustworthy as the National Enquirer, I've seen many such false numbers being uncritically reported even in the "serious" media.


Posted by: Andrew on June 2, 2006 1:36 AM


You write:

Most Americans (that is, native-born) think immigrants come here to lap up the benefits offered by the welfare state. This is, by any measure, patently false. And illegals only have access to a few services (education up to high school, emergency medical attention).

It is false, but it's also a straw man. I'm not worried about the Senate bill because I think that illegal immigrants are here with bad intentions (I've known more than few.) But having lived in a city with significant numbers of low-skilled, relatively uneducated immigrants, legal and otherwise, often with very limited English, I've seen the impacts that such people have on the community. The school system is trashed (you may have heard the left-wing Hispanic mayor, a former union organizer, is trying to take it over from its rightful owners, the teacher's union.) The emergency healthcare system would have collapsed without special Federal aid engineered by Mr. Clinton to ensure he carried California in 1996. The roads are jammed and become virtual parkinglots during rush hour. Street gang activity is up (I wrote about a murder committed in front of my office by a member of an 'intergenerational' Latino street gang). Perhaps most ominously, the 2000 census revealed that L.A. was the only metropolitan area in the country where per household income had dropped during the "roaring '90s", and that both the concentration of poverty and the dispersion of poverty had increased across all of L.A. County.

In short,the social structure of L.A. is beginning to resemble that of a Latin American city, with rich whites on top and masses of brown on the bottom. This is not the prettiest picture in the world, and of course generates many editorials on how the wealthy should be deprived of their presumably ill-gotten incomes in order to restore the American [!] dream.

Also, I your claim that illegals have access to only limited services is true (although the impact on even those services can be highly disruptive at the local level where most of those are provided), it is irrelevant; under the Senate bill virtually every illegal will be legalized, vitually overnight.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 2, 2006 9:04 AM

The more low-skill workers there are, the more viable business opportunities exist that involve hiring low-skill workers. Which means more opportunities to work and climb the economic ladder, both for the immigrants and the natives. Letting more immigrants in is accomodating the native poor.

Sounds nice, Glen. Might one ask if there is a rate and/or volume of low-skill immigration at which opportunities to climb the economic ladder begin to decline? Whether the recent and continuing large waves of Latin immigrants are moving up the ladder and out of poverty comparably to other or previous groups isn't a theoretical question.

Apropos of this general discussion are some interesting bits I came across this morning in this week's Economist. (p.31, "Poverty ratings: the not-so-Golden State"):

"But plenty more will never get near the [American] dream. According to a new report by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), America's most populous state is now the third-poorest in the nation, behind Washington, DC, and New York, with almost 6m Californians living below the poverty line."

The point here being that the PPIC, unlike the federal government, factors in the cost of housing in measuring poverty. (What a concept, eh?) Further on (to echo some of FvB's remarks):

"So do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? With unskilled immigrants pouring in from Latin America (28% of Californians in 2004 were immigrants, compared with 10% in 1969), the gap between rich and poor is growing faster in California than anywhere else in America. A family at the 10th percentile of income in 2004 had an income of $15,600, a fall in real terms of 12% since 1969. At the same time the percentage of poor families with a member working full-time has actually risen, from only 12% in 1969 to over 30% in 2004."

Food for thought. Wonder how this compares to other states with high levels of low skill immigration.

Posted by: Moira Breen on June 2, 2006 10:03 AM


I agree with most of what you say. However L.A. freeways were a parking lot long beofre the current wave of immigrants! And as to the Senate bill, I don't know how much it changed between April and the last version, but I do believe that there's a lot of hyberbole surrounding it.

In particular, the more questionable bits were probably included as bargaining chips for negotiations with the House.

Needless to say, I'm rather pessimistic about the ability of our legislators to come up with a decent solution.

They're not entirely at fault: this issue requires much more research. In particular, the economics of immigration are not well understood.

Let me give an example. Many people decry immigrants because they tend to lower wages by raising the total labor supply (or, more accurately, limit wage gains). Yet, if immigration levels were cut and wages rose, how much production would simply be offshored to India, China et al. ? Would it actually be better to sacrife wage growth through immigration while keeping more production activities here? I don't have a clear answer.

Posted by: Andrew on June 2, 2006 1:06 PM


Are they gonna ship the grass to be mowed, the food to be cooked, the houses to be cleaned, etc., etc., etc. to India and China too? They're already shipping the manufacturing jobs. Engineering, accounting, and other white collar jobs will follow.

The economics of immigration are well understood. Just ask the employers who are hiring the illegal aliens. Also ask the taxpayers who are subsidizing the illegals. If America is shipping jobs out at the top, the rungs of the ladder to the American Dream are being chopped off. This isn't 1900. A global economy means capital moves to the cheap labor. The cheap labor doesn't have to move to the capital. Except for domestic service jobs which can't be moved offshore. This illegal/legal immigration tsunami is an orchestrated attempt by big money to drive wages into the dirt.

I suspect when the middle class starts losing ground, the big money boys will push the government to embrace socialism and even more deficit spending to keep the masses from revolting. Load the goverment up with debt up to the limit, then cut and run to next profiteering opportunity (country). Play them all off against one another, milk 'em, then dump 'em. Sweet!

Posted by: Jump on June 2, 2006 1:57 PM

Fun reading: earnest-lefty Jack Beatty deplores what's going on with immigration. Punchy quote:

"How will fifty years of massive low-wage immigration change the country? A society already more unequal than at any time since the 1920s will grow more starkly unequal as a helot class of workers with no labor rights pushes down the wages of poorer American citizens—brown, black, and white. Already average wages are as much as $1,500 lower owing to immigration. Estimates of the net cost to the taxpayer of providing services to poor immigrants run to as much as $22 billion annually—$3 billion in California alone ...

Anyone who cares about the life-chances of our most vulnerable countrymen and women must want to see illegal immigration be curtailed and guest-worker programs limited to highly-skilled guest workers."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 2, 2006 3:30 PM

And another interesting one, from Dean Baker. The construction industry is complaining they can't get enough workers, therefor immigration has to rise. Baker looks at the numbers:

"inflation adjusted wages for construction workers have actually fallen about 5 percent since 1980, a period in which productivity has increased by more than 70 percent ... There is no more a shortage of workers for low-paid jobs than there is a shortage of workers for higher paid jobs. The difference is simply that the workers who perform less-skilled work have less political power to protect themselves against the efforts of employers to get low cost immigrant labor."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 2, 2006 6:04 PM

I'd like to know why neo-cons and others can make a case for shipping jobs overseas because "they're just not going to be done in the United States anymore." Yet, we can't let a let many jack in the box or McDonald's restaurants close since they say they cannot find help without the illegals. These businesses have to be saved. The Chamber of Commerce has spoken. Oh, and by the way could you taxpayers pay the medical, dental, educational et al for these workers?
I say let 'em close. Let's see how we do without them. It will certainly be easy to change our minds to the let everyone in position, but if we start with the let everyone in position. We are doomed to harsh measures or nothing if we decide this experiment has failed.
Steve N.

Posted by: steve on June 4, 2006 4:46 AM

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