Arnold Kling  

Fine-tuning Immigration

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Two articles today discuss economic ideas for fine-tuning immigration policy. James Miller writes,


The guest worker program should allocate visas to communities and then permit each community to decide how many of their visas to issue. For example, if Northampton, MA received fifty visas but wanted only twenty guest workers, the town would not be compelled to allot the extra thirty...
Immigration policy could be improved even further by allowing communities to sell their unwanted guest worker visas to other towns.

Jeff Madrick writes,

But simply requiring workers to return home is not enough. Attractive incentives must be provided as well, and those in the Bush plan are inadequate. Devesh Kapur, a professor of government at Harvard, who with his colleagues has done comprehensive research in the field, suggests that one possibility is to have the United States retain part of the wages paid to new legal migrant workers in an investment account that is given back to the workers only when they return to their home countries.

As for the power of businesses over their recruits in the Bush plan, Mr. Kapur says that employees should be required to work for their sponsoring company for only a limited time, and then be allowed to look for other jobs.


My essay on immigration also had economic fine-tuning ideas.

For Discussion. Are there fundamental issues with immigration, such as the question of assimilation, that are not addressed by economic fine tuning?



COMMENTS (14 to date)
Ray writes:

Guest worker programs in and of themselves are not a panacea but merely a tool to document the millions of workers already here (I'm writing this from Phoenix).

The immigration problem itself will not be solved until Mexico is no longer a place that people are willing to endanger their lives to leave. (Note that illegal Canadians are not a real problem.)

Assimilation: Multiculturalism is socially corrosive. The political Left will sometimes harken back to our national roots of being built upon immigration but assimilation was not an issue. You either assimilated or suffered economically because of your refusal to do so.

Now we are a multicultural society where politicians are working hard for the supposed Constitutional rights of illegal immigrants and our Hispanic communities see themselves as Mexican first and American second.

This "mother" country first spirit used to fade with the first immigrant generation while their kids fully assimilated. Now I hear young Mexican kids insulting each other by calling each other chicanos; and none of these kids are even from Mexico. (A chicano is an American born Mexican and it used to be a title borne with pride. Now the pride has shifted to be being from Mexico so much so that they lie about it and don't want to be American first.)

So economics crosses paths with assimilation in that lacking an assimilation process used to carry negative economic effects. Now it doesn't.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

The immigration issue will not be settled by the Bush program, or by a 'Guest' program. I would suggest a far better law could be a tax on foreign labor which business must pay (I believe in Tax Policy Economics). Such a law would simply state Employers must pay $3 an hour per foreign labor, with a $10,000 fine per instance of found violation.

What would this law do? Legalize foreign employment without attempt to impose a Visa system. It would register all foreign workers, because of Employer fear of failure to register. It would lessen the advantage of employment of foreign labor, and lead to greater advantage in employment of domestic labor--raise domestic base wages. Foreign labor would be immediately available to fill labor needs. The tax would help pay for the necessary social services. Employers would be forced to assume the real cost of labor supply. It is easy to enforce. Politicians, though, like greater complication.
lgl

Eric Krieg writes:

Guys, I'm just stupid when it comes to the mechanics of hiring an illegal. Assuming that you aren't totally breaking the law and paying the guy under the table, how do you get around the fact that you need a valid Socialist Insecurity number to work legally in America?

Isn't catching illegals just a matter of going through the Socialist Insecurity records and busting everyone who is using an invalid number?

vinod writes:

the problem w/ Tax and Employer oriented solutions is that the illegal workforce creates a large incentive for employers to go underground as well.

I'm in the SF Bay Area and I'll bet, for instance, that the vast majority of housecleaners employed are similar to the 3-man shop my roommates and I used to use a few years ago. It was 3 people (probably all related to each other), who came by, worked in our house for an hour and whom we paid $60 cash with no other questions, paperwork, etc.

The same pattern holds with contractors, yard work, car washes, etc.

Going after the employer just pushes the "wage arbitrage" point lower in the legal chain. Instead of directly hiring illegals, an org will subcontract to another org that's hiring illegals. If the subcontracted org gets busted then it dissolves (The Walmart bust was typical but also unique due to the amount of press coverage it received)

David Thomson writes:

I am so frustrated. Why are so many hesitant to confront the real crisis with Hispanic immigration?: their male chauvinist contempt towards education. Discussing any other aspects are of secondary importance. To be really blunt: they might even be a total waste of time! Please note, that we are not worrying about the Asians or most other ethnic groups--only the Hispanics. These other groups mostly climb the economic and educational ladder almost immediately after entering the United States.

Boonton writes:
Assimilation: Multiculturalism is socially corrosive. The political Left will sometimes harken back to our national roots of being built upon immigration but assimilation was not an issue. You either assimilated or suffered economically because of your refusal to do so. Now we are a multicultural society where politicians are working hard for the supposed Constitutional rights of illegal immigrants and our Hispanic communities see themselves as Mexican first and American second.

There's quite a few elements of myth here. Did you know that originally America had large segments of German speakers...even some areas where German bordered on being the 'official' language of the local gov't (some of that still remains in the Amish areas of PA). Every large wave of immigration both assimilated into American society but also altered its nature.

The America of 1950 was not the America of 1850 even though the large numbers of Irish, Italian and non-British European immigrants had largely been assimilated. There is little reason to believe that the Latino immigrants (legal and illegal) will not also assimilate into US culture while also adding their own elements to it. In fact, its already happening.

David Thomson writes:

“There is little reason to believe that the Latino immigrants (legal and illegal) will not also assimilate into US culture while also adding their own elements to it. In fact, its already happening.”

Is it? Where is the evidence for such a claim? On the contrary, we find Mexican males who are especially contemptuous of becoming educated. Their children remain proudly ignorant after even the third generation. Just about every other ethnic group advances far more quickly in American society. Perhaps only the Cubans are the exception within the diverse Hispanic community.

Ray writes:

Boonton,

Ok, for Boonton we have to revert to the remedial course.

Assimilation was not an issue until relatively recently because, in a nutshell, there was no official effort to be “inclusive.” If you couldn’t read English and wanted to vote, tough, there were no multi-lingual ballots. And so on and so on.

Of course there were, and still are, pockets of immigrant culture where English is not the first language but Chinatown or Little Italy bore such names exactly because they were places that had not assimilated (or were at least places where the non-assimilated could go).

Boon’s assertions only reinforce my original statements that the Left always harkens to our nation’s immigrant foundation while ignoring the points I’ve listed above.

In case that was still over Boon’s head; we used to be a melting pot, now there are official efforts to halt the melting and to just stir the pot.

America is the greatest civilization the world has ever seen because to be American is not to belong to a race but to be a citizen. The corrosion that is currently eating away at our society is this multi-culturalism that makes it ok to be Mexican or African first and American second. So we are no longer Americans but hyphenated citizens.

The only myths displayed here is the canard that we are a great people solely because of our differences; this of course is wrong. We are such a great country because we are (for the time being) a unified group of differing people.

Ray writes:

Eric,

Hiring illegals goes something like this.

Assuming the hiring is above the table, the illegal in question simply furnishes any old SSN. Most employers have neither time nor resources to effectively check these numbers. So the illegals work for a while until the government eventually catches the error. It takes (from my experience – I used to be an estimator in the manufacturing sector) around 2 to 4 months for the government to realize that the employer has been submitting their payroll data with X amount of bogus SSN’s. So the government sends a query, the foreman lets it be known that they have received such a query and the next day, half the shop doesn’t show up.

If that sounds as if the employer is complicit, think again. The alternative is to scrutinize all Hispanic employees and hold up the hiring process for an indefinite period of time while checking the numbers, not to mention the extra cost of verification. So a shop owner needs 3 extra workers to get a big order out, he wouldn’t be able to hire anyone quick enough and would run the risk of being sued for discrimination. So he just hires whomever can produce a SSN and if it doesn’t check out in the long run, time to hire some more.

Ray writes:

It is true the Latino community doesn’t seem to value education much but they are, as a group, extremely hard workers. They just seem to want to have an uncomplicated job, do their work and be able to drink their beer afterwards and maybe play some soccer on the weekends. Much like half the white people I know from Indiana, just substitute basketball for soccer.

None of this would be a problem but this lack of education does hinder assimilation. Of course now that the government is making an effort to be inclusive with their multi-cultural, multi-lingual nonsense, the economic advantage of assimilation has been blunted and instead of having little pockets of immigrant culture i.e. Little Saigon or whatever, entire sections of cities are now just Spanish speaking Latino.

Now mush heads like Boon would argue that this is ok, if you don’t want to live there, it’s a free country. But wait, ceding an entire half of the city to one immigrant group where English is no longer the first language still creates a pocket of non-assimilation. Only now it is too large to be considered something like Chinatown and truly becomes a world unto itself.

The not so obvious problem to this is that this pocket only serves to isolate its denizens and the lack of real industry, education and overall assimilation only gets worse. Every once in a while you’ll hear a “civil rights” group come out about the fact that X amount of minorities are forced to pay relatively higher interest rates on home loans. The reason these pronouncements never produce any headline lawsuits is because those minorities paying higher rates are purchasing homes within their sub-communities. So minorities pay higher rates than their white counterparts because the home they are buying is in the non-assimilated part of town.

So are we melting or are we just stirring the pot?

Ray writes:

An interesting aside related to assimilation is one of heterosis. This is the converse of inbreeding depression and indeed can be properly referred to as outbreeding (I had to add that to my Word dictionary).

Inbreeding of course produces a stunted offspring, both physically and mentally. Heterosis occurs when two parents are genetically farther apart than normal and, in short, the recessive genes become more recessive. I’ve also seen it referred to as hybrid vigor.

Essentially, there are 7 different population clusters or races though the term race is decidedly politically incorrect today. Obviously there are many cultures and even what some would call races within each of these 7 but these are the main genetic groupings. (I have it in print but if anyone were curious enough, they might want to Google “Cavalli-Sforza” for more on this.)

These groups are not defined by physical appearances but by genetic frequencies. Researchers like Cavalli–Sforza study 100+ genetic markers and the frequency of those markers in dozens of different populations. So these groups are defined by the frequency of these markers. If we listed these groups on a tree like graph, some branches would be found to be closer to one another and some would be farther away from the whole than others.

So when two parents from branches that are farther apart than is the norm in the general population, heterosis is said to occur. This produces a genetic strengthening.

And so over a great deal of time, a country as free and diverse as America will slowly pull ahead of her global neighbors that still define themselves as Germans or French or East African. Unless of course those like Boonton have their way and the sub-population clusters are allowed to isolate themselves in their 3rd world style cities of their own.

America will continue to move forward but someday our kids will facing the immigration problem of all of those Californians and Arizonans infiltrating our American borders.

Another clarification for Boonton;

heterosis = melting pot = good.

Multiculturalism = isolation = bad

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Ray and Eric,
The issue of a SSN is not an issue. Foreigners could simply apply for a SS card like Everyone else. Benefits would only be paid if they met the Quarters criteria like Everyone else, though the cards would mark they are a foreign citizen with the foreign labor tax to be paid.

Boonton,
Assimilation has never been achieved by Government program, and dissension has often been caused by same. Government programs detailed to aid Minorities always slow assimilation, as Minorities find less need to integrate by acquiring the necessary skills. A Employee in the Park where I live is a nice guy, but he is truly hard to communicate with, as he speaks English very poorly. His real problem is that he was born and raised in East L.A., and is as American as I am. lgl

Brad S writes:

Actually, Boonton (for once) has it quite correct when he talks about the reality of assimilation. There are history books in South Dakota which clearly state that German was an everyday language used in frontier communities (including LEGAL DOCUMENTATION). It took a World War (I) and a rash of anti-German baiting to get nearly all (except most Hutterite communities) communities on the stick WRT English common usage.

The point is that assimilation was not an expected social requirement until very recently; people were able to function while still holding to their native tongue. WRT Hispanic assimilation, while Spanish-language TV may make it easier for them to escape general society, the commercials on that same Spanish-language TV act as somewhat of a counterbalance. After all, you need products and services, so some direct interaction comes into play.

Boonton writes:
Is it? Where is the evidence for such a claim? On the contrary, we find Mexican males who are especially contemptuous of becoming educated. Their children remain proudly ignorant after even the third generation. Just about every other ethnic group advances far more quickly in American society. Perhaps only the Cubans are the exception within the diverse Hispanic community.

Really? And where's your evidence for this? Are Mexican's unqiue in being 'proudly ignorant' or did previous immigrant groups such as Italians and Irish have different rates of becoming less 'ignorant'?

Assimilation was not an issue until relatively recently because, in a nutshell, there was no official effort to be “inclusive.” If you couldn’t read English and wanted to vote, tough, there were no multi-lingual ballots. And so on and so on.

Of course there were, and still are, pockets of immigrant culture where English is not the first language but Chinatown or Little Italy bore such names exactly because they were places that had not assimilated (or were at least places where the non-assimilated could go).

Boon’s assertions only reinforce my original statements that the Left always harkens to our nation’s immigrant foundation while ignoring the points I’ve listed above.

In case that was still over Boon’s head; we used to be a melting pot, now there are official efforts to halt the melting and to just stir the pot.

Believe it or not but multilingual ballots make it maybe 0.00001% easier for a non-English speaker to function. The fact remains learning English in the US opens up a huge array of choices. Yes there will be some who will never learn English and stick to non-English media but as you show with Chinatowns and 'Little Italies' (and also don't forget French & German speaking niches still in the US) they are the minority. The pattern continues to be for the immigrant group to 'melt' while adding their own flavor to the stew.

Extraordinary claims require strong evidence. Ancedotal observations of 'education hating' Latino men or neighborhoods where you see more Spanish than English are not sufficient. Eighty years ago there were also neighborhoods where nearly everything spoken or written was Italian and there were plenty of 'tough' guys who didn't think much of school.


And so over a great deal of time, a country as free and diverse as America will slowly pull ahead of her global neighbors that still define themselves as Germans or French or East African. Unless of course those like Boonton have their way and the sub-population clusters are allowed to isolate themselves in their 3rd world style cities of their own.

America will continue to move forward but someday our kids will facing the immigration problem of all of those Californians and Arizonans infiltrating our American borders.

Ray's rather amusing here. How am I 'allowing' groups to 'isolate' themselves? Assimilation is a reality and it does not require gov't programs to happen and it didn't happen in the past because Ray incorrectly believes 'official' gov't business was conducted in English until sometime around 1969.

Would Ray or anyone else here like to present any hard evidence that assimilation is not happening or is happening slower than it did in the past? I'm sure someone must have conducted studies of how long it took previous immigrant groups to master English or achieve a significant amount of intermarriage. Any hard evidence that this is happening slower today?

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