Bryan Caplan  

Illegal Immigration and Political Culture

North and Weingast... Anarchy in the W.T....

Several readers have asked me to discuss the effects of immigration on policy, and sometime in the next few weeks I'm going to satisfy their request. But here's a quick reaction to Arnold's approving (?) link to Bill Whittle's worries about the political effect of illegal immigration. Here's Whittle:

If we reward illegal immigration with amnesty, we have allowed the illegals not only to screw our own people and laws, but even more so they harm their own countrymen who are trying to get here by cooperating.

My claim: If you're worried about immigrants "screwing our own people and laws" by voting for bad policies, then you should prefer illegal immigration. Why? Because they are especially unlikely to vote - as even this hand-wringing piece in the Washington Times admits:
Nationally, immigration experts said it is likely that illegal immigrants vote, but that only a small percentage does so.

"Evidence suggests very few illegal aliens vote, but it's certainly not zero," said Steven Camarota, director of research at the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies. "Illegal aliens don't come to America to vote, and would generally try to avoid doing so."

There's already a strong argument that illegal immigrants have substantial budgetary benefits: They pay a lot of taxes, but - as healthy young males afraid of the authorities - they collect few benefits. It turns out that there's also a strong argument that illegal immigrants have negligible political costs. Overall, it's hard to find a better example of anti-foreign bias.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (13 to date)
jsalvati writes:

I think George Borjas suffers from this. link

Horatio writes:

The people who complain "It's against the law!" are sheep. These are the same type of people were fine with slavery before it was abolished. If we were all like them, we'd still be chucking spears. If the law is wrong, break it.

It would be hard to get this through congress, but limitations on citizenship would solve many of the problems. No one should be guaranteed citizenship. People born here should be guaranteed lifelong residency and the right to take the citizenship exam. The people most likely to blindly vote for paternalistic government are also the least likely to put in the effort to take the exam.

PrestoPundit writes:

"They pay a lot of taxes"

How much pot do you smoke every day?

60% of illegals have no high school education. Their children typically don't graduate from high school in this country.

The typical illegal head of household costs his legal neighbors $10,000 more per year than he pays in taxes.

Most illegals qualify for "earned income" tax REBATES from the Federal government.

The Social Security and Medicare Bill for illegals given amnesty will be at least $2.5 Trillion.

Put down the bong Bryan.

Matthew c writes:

Most illegals qualify for "earned income" tax REBATES from the Federal government.

What percentage of them *get* the EITC? Also those are presumably paying that much in security withholding to a fake SSN. I bet very few illegals file tax forms, but some data would be good.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan, you really aren't doing your book's reputation any good by posting on a topic you've clearly spent almost zero time studying and have strong emotional biases about to boot. If anybody writes "The Myth of the Rational Economist," they'll start with your immigration posts.

Of course, _illegal_ immigrants don't vote much. It's illegal. You may have heard, however, that there happens to be a bill before the US Senate to make them legal, with eventual voting rights.

Further, immigration has a more subtle voting effect by hurting "affordable family formation" by making housing in good school districts more expensive for natives. This cuts down on marriage and fertility, which means that conservative family values campaigns have less traction among voters without families. That's a big reason that California, with by far the highest percentage of immigrant residents, switched from voting Republican in nine of ten Presidential elections from 1952 to 1988 to going solidly Democratic in the last four elections.

And even Hispanic Republicans favor tax-and-spend policies, as Pew Hispanic Center polls have shown.

Moreover, Hispanic elected officials are way to the left even of Hispanic voters -- 92% are Democrats.

Tino writes:

“There's already a strong argument that illegal immigrants have substantial budgetary benefits: They pay a lot of taxes, but - as healthy young males afraid of the authorities - they collect few benefits.”

Amazing. Simply amazing. How can one make this claim when you have not even looked up the issues? Economics is not the field of baseless opinion. We KNOW the budgetary effects of unskilled immigration. The National Research Council has calculated it.

According to the NRC the net cost for each unskilled immigrant is ca 140.000$ (in 2006 dollars, 98 thousand in 1995 dollars) over their lifetime. College Educated immigrants are a substantial boost, but of course those are only 4%(!) of the Mexicans in the US. 70% do not have a high school degree.

Even this is likely to be an underestimation of costs, since it was done before the latest’s expansion of program (Medicaid most importantly), and because it (counterfactually) assumed a fast rate of assimilation, that within 3 generations immigrants would converge to American average. We know from BLS statistics that third and later generation Hispanics earn much less than the average.

More recently Robert Rector made his own fact based (as opposed to emotion and bias based) calculations.

Thinking about the issue for even a few seconds should make this clear. Unskilled immigrants earn little money. Those with high incomes are net tax-payers, and everyone else net receivers. The fact that the unskilled immigrants “work” does not prove ANYTHING. The American welfare system is geared towards the working poor. They pay almost no federal taxes, little local taxes. They get more from Social Security and Medicaid than they pay in (even if they are young NOW they are likely to age, the laws of nature and all. Why I have to point this out to someone with a Princeton Phd?). They get subsidized health care, education for their kids, other public services and not the least cash transfers.
Mexican families are even today more than twice as likely to use a major welfare program as natives, before passing making more of them eligible! According to the US census the average income of Mexicans in 2000 was 44% that of Native Americans.

49% of Mexicans, and 39% of ILLEGALL Mexicans, are eligible for the ETIC, compared to 13% of natives. Not all of the use it (of course most of them will after this bill). But we can be clear that many do use it, inferring from the high average use of the ETIC (80-90%).

Bryan Caplan is a professor in economist. When he makes claims about important policy issues he has a responsibility to be well informed. Yet he has Cleary not even put 5 minutes to skim the National Research Council report or any other calculation of the known costs of unskilled immigration.

Who is the one being “biased“ here?

Tino writes:

In the US illegal immigrants actually quasi-vote. Amazingly it seems the illegal population is calculated into the base for congressional districts. Since they overwhelmingly concentrate in solidly Democrat pro-welfare state districts, even illegal immigrants help expand the political strength of the left.

It must amaze Caplan to learn that poor unskilled immigrants are drawn to states with generous (with other peoples money) program.

(in fairness I heard Bruce Meyer was skeptic of the size of this particular work, although he agreed on the direction).

More “bias” from the Journal of Health Economics, about the welfare use of immigrants. Note that these horrible figures represent ALL immigrant, and are adding the Indian and Chinese engineers to the Mexican and Central American 9 dollars/hour unskilled.

More (I would say in the long term most) depressing data about the Mexican born workforce and their lack of economic convergence. This one is co-authored by Harvard’s Lawrence F. Katz, the well known “anti-foreign” liberal economist.

By the way, someone told me about this amazing new economic concept called “expectations” . Apparently when you evaluate illegal immigration today you should take into account expected legalization tomorrow. Wild stuff.


Well known anti-brown biggot Thomas Sowell is at it again.

Sarcasm aside. Which article about the effects of legalization has more intellectual depth and makes better use of economics? Sowells with norm vs. discretion, reputation effects, and time inconsistency, or Caplans?

I have no doubt Caplan is as smart as Sowell. The most logical explanation starts with a B and ends with ias.

Tino writes:

"healthy young males afraid of the authorities"

"At yearend 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males."

261% of the white crime rate. Perhaps they are not afraid enough? (If I remember currectly the Mexican IMMIGRANTS have twice the white crime rate. But don't worry, the hispanic crime rate shoots up by the second generation).

Horatio writes:

It seems the NRC only takes into account what low skill immigrants pay in taxes minus what they get and minus what natural Americans lose due to higher demand on those services. This is a foolish way to calculate the net benefits of immigration. Those immigrants also provide services that would otherwise cost us a lot more money. We should take into account the amount we save due to cheaper labor.

Tino writes:


Borjas has done it. It is miniscle, in the range of 10 billion. The obvious reason is that unskilled immigrants have not pressed down wages all that much.

Nathan Smith writes:

Tino seems to muster a lot of facts but then you read this:

"They get more from Social Security and Medicaid than they pay in (even if they are young NOW they are likely to age, the laws of nature and all. Why I have to point this out to someone with a Princeton Phd?)"

But Social Security benefits depend on documented contributions to the system. If you're paying taxes with a fake ID you're not accruing benefits. Apparently, with his Princeton PhD, Bryan was able to connect these dots.

Tino writes:


The proposed immigration reform is going to give illegal’s the right to collect retirement benefits, including (it seems in the current draft) partial rights for when they worked illegally. (still less horrible than the previous senate proporsal to give them everything retroactively). The progressive nature of security works will all but ensure that the net effect is a cost on Americans for the average illegal.

This should by the have been obvious from the beginning, the US cannot legalize millions of poor people and let them starve once they are old citizens with voting rights.

The 0.05% of GDP that illegal’s are today estimated to pay into social security each year will not cover their retirement, let alone all the other costs illegal’s impose.

Next question?

sakthi writes:

At any means we cannot encourage illegal immigrants,one day or other it'll definitely bring us a huge problem..Recently in Canada 43 Indians visa got rejected due to the submission of fake documents.Immigration have to be very strict.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top