Bryan Caplan  

Sailer's Challenge

Economics of Education Over th... I Heart Textbook Authors...

Further down the comments on Tyler's piece on education, Steve Sailer asks a (seemingly) pointed question:


If you came flat out and told the truth -- that IQ matters a lot in terms of overall economic productivity and that importing a lot of 90 IQ average illegal immigrants is the surest way to drive down economic performance per capita -- could you keep your job at the New York Times?

I don't know about Tyler's tacit terms of employment. But I'm far more pro-immigration than Tyler, and I agree with both of Sailer's claims!

1. "IQ matters a lot in terms of overall economic productivity." Duh.

2. "[I]mporting a lot of 90 IQ average illegal immigrants is the surest way to drive down economic performance per capita." This is a purely arithmetic truth, like "Importing a lot of toddlers into a room is the surest way to drive down height per capita." For the intelligent tribalist, the interesting question is whether immigration reduces per capita income of natives. Comparative advantage gives a clear answer; and if that doesn't satisfy you, try Borjas' empirics.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (15 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Check out the standard of living by state -- median income for a family of four divided by cost of living. California comes in next to last, ahead of only isolated Hawaii.

James D. Miller writes:

I suspect that the greater the inequality among Americans the greater the size of government expenditures. Absent any change in the size of government, importing many low skilled workers would almost certainly raise the wealth of most natives. But if these low skilled workers caused an increase in government spending as a percentage of GDP then the average wealth of natives could easily go down.

Bryan, your work on voting shows that if the educational level of U.S. voters goes down then the quality of U.S. governmental economic policy will probably also go down. This could greatly harm our country.

Will writes:

k, but California has one of the highest levels of income inequality.

(I'm looking at table 1 in Richard Morrill, "Geographic variation in change in income inequality among US states, 1970-1990" The Annals of Regional Science 34, 1 (2000))

Giovanni Peri found Calfornia native wages *rose* with immigration.

Will writes:

My 'k' was addressed to Steve.

@James: Government spending growth has been more or less constant over the last 40 years. Immigration is more lumping. If immigration was causing growth in spending, you'd expect lumpy spending associated with the lumps in immigration.

Floccina writes:

Some write posts along this line: ‘I suspect that the greater the inequality among Americans the greater the size of government expenditures.’

This may or may not be true. For example it may be that the USA has a less extensive welfare state than the Northern Europeans states because Americans see blacks and immigrants receiving welfare. Now some would argue that once blacks + Hispanics are more that whites that changes but it is my perception that voting blacks do not like the welfare system but always vote democratic for other reasons thus an anti-welfare democrat might do well among blacks.

BTW immigrants also seem to dislike welfare.

Crime is another issue.

Also a higher population promotes an increase in the division of labor this is ignored in the immigration debate.

As a result of increased division of labor people working in higher population density places like big cities tend to make more money. They often do not live higher because of bigger government but also some of the benefits of living in big cities are not included in the typical standard of living measures. For example I grew up in Providence RI where the population density could support some great bakeries. I still miss those spogiatelli, Italian, Italian bread, Italian spinach pies, Italian baker pizza, zeppoli, almond cresents, Danish pastries, etc. etc.etc. but I understand that you cannot support an industry like that in a place with a population density like we have where I live now. (Otherwise I would open a bakery here).

Dennis Mangan writes:

From the post on comparative advantage:"The Law of Comparative Advantage shows that even if some people really are more productive than others in every respect, they have something to offer each other."

This says nothing about the desirability or necessity of being within the same border for this to work. Obviously, free trade with Mexico would accomplish what comparative advantage says.

Either that, or the law of comparative advantage can, like Marxism or Freudianism, be used to prove anything.

Horatio writes:

To first order (comparative advantage), immigrants raise the per capita income of natives. However, this may require an analysis beyond first order to provide accurate predictions. Immigrants from Latin America do vote for the nanny state more than natives and if they are able to increase government restrictionism enough, that would offset the advantages gained by cheap labor. We're better off with the status quo than amnesty or deportation. We can enjoy the benefits of cheap labor without giving these new immigrants the right to vote paternofascists into office.

Carter writes:

How can an intelligent fellow like Bryan, who even wrote a book on public choice theory, fail to grasp how importing millions of low IQ people will have consequences beyond labor prices? It’s irrational, but why is Bryan irrational? Because there's little direct consequence to him for having irrational beliefs in this matter: he isn’t in economic competition with low IQ immigrants, he doesn’t live among them, his children won’t be going to school with them. Therefore "Even when his views are completely wrong, he gets the psychological benefit of emotionally appealing political beliefs at a bargain price."

Steve Sailer writes:

One obvious point is that the important measurement isn't the nominal per capita income, it's the income divided by the cost of living, which gives you the standard of living, which has dropped like a rock in California over the last few decades of massive illegal immigration.

The difference between nominal and real isn't some esoteric concept. So, why don't economists use it when thinkng about immigration?

Mensarefugee writes:

Leave aside economics. Take birth-rates. In the absence of prolific Low IQ groups - High IQ groups will have to keep their birthrates at 2.1 (or parity).

But in their presence, their constraints and incentives are reduced. Its a signalling thing - High IQ types can think "well, as long as someone is having kids..." until it is too late.

AKA low IQ groups pervert High IQ groups incentives.

Horatio writes:


Is that how you think about having children? You either want kids or you don't, that guy selling oranges on the corner shouldn't affect that. Perhaps if your kin have many children, that will decrease your desire for children of your own, but natives don't consider most immigrants kin. The availability of cheap nannies is an incentive for high-IQ types to have more children.

Mensarefugee writes:

Low IQ types means High IQ types have to pay to send other people's children to school. And those schools, inevitably, have low quality because of all the Low IQ, more impulsive and violent kids.

Ergo, High IQ types only have kids if they can afford private school for them. Aka they pay twice.

And government will not incentivize births if "enough" kids are being born. Government is short sighted and doesnt care about the IQ of kids. Ergo pressure/incentives is not bought to bear on High IQ types to have kids.

This all seems glaringly obvious to me. Whats your agenda?

Jody writes:

Horatio: But increased immigrants necessarily drive up housing costs (via driving up the cost of land - see CA).

As to Will/CA - why is CA experiencing a net outflow of natives if the immigration is truly better for the natives? It seems to me, that all else being equal, if immigrants were improving the lives of natives, then there would be a net inflow.

Are they just irrational racists or are costs being driven up beyond what they can afford? In other words, is their real income actually decreasing?

Horatio writes:


Look at the TIMSS statistics by race/ethnicity. In comparison to other developed nations, the US does a very good job at educating the average student, even those from low IQ groups.

I am not convinced that subsidizing the education of other people's children is a waste of my money. I gain more from some dumb guy who has enough education to build part of my house than some dumb guy who wasn't given any education at all. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? That is the important question.

High IQ types are smart enough to understand these issues, but many have not invested the time to gather the relevant data or think about the problems. Even smart people have irrational knee jerk reactions.

My agenda is to get to the truth of the matter. I am the son of an illegal immigrant but my father did not come here because he needed work. I come from the (mostly) white ruling class of Latin America and my father would have been more financially secure in his native country. It was the war that drove him out. He came illegally because it was easier than jumping through hoops for the government.

Do the increases in housing costs outweigh the benefits of their cheap labor? Shouldn't they also have the affect of pushing down housing costs because construction workers become cheaper?

Truthfully, these immigrants don't have a high demand for the type of housing I am likely to purchase in the future. They will contribute to land demand, but they will also build my house for cheap.

Jody writes:

Do the increases in housing costs outweigh the benefits of their cheap labor?

The costs and benefits to low skilled immigration are pretty hard to calculate on a macroeconomic scale, particularly as they are tied up in a lot of other socioeconomic trends.

Hence my use of the metric of native migration trends as the choice to move aggregates a lot of comparative factors (such as jobs, real income, quality of life). A better analysis (hint: steve, if you're reading this thread, it would be a nice little article) would correlate native migration trends with low-skill immigration and immigration in general.

Note: native migration actually indicates not how many people think it's better in place x than place y, but how many think place x is better than place y by at least the cost of moving.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top