Arnold Kling  

Cheers for a Two-Tier Society

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High School Curriculum... Aging Rockers vs. the Long Tai...

Giovanni Peri writes,


U.S.-born workers are climbing the educational ladder, acquiring interactive/analytic skills and progressively leaving the manual jobs that would put them in competition with immigrants. If the trend continues as expected, the day is not far off when virtually all manual labor will be performed by foreign-born labor. This implies large wage gains for native workers, since they will be able to specialize in language-intensive and interactive tasks that are typically far better paid.

While some people shudder at the prospect of a more stratified society with immigrants at the bottom, keep in mind that the biggest gainers by far in this situation are the immigrants themselves. They can expect to earn six to seven times what they can now make in similar jobs in their countries of origin.


So it's a win-win. We get more nannies, lawn-care workers, waiters, and hotel maids, the immigrants get more money, and our kids learn skills that keep them out of competition with the underclass. All we have to lose is our self-concept of an egalitarian society...

I can see why economists have difficulty selling our pro-immigration position.


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COMMENTS (17 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Right, it's the perfect policy for Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.

For the real America, where half the kids are below average in book smarts, not so much ...

mgroves writes:

Legal immigration is great. Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!

Mensarefugee writes:

Might be theoretically great for the interim, but what happens 20-30 years down the line, where the immigrants have kids who arent overly 'grateful' for being in america to do manual labour. When they cant move out of the manual labour trades - we edge closer to a breakup of the USA or outright civil war.

TGGP writes:

Many years ago some people thought it would be a good idea to bring in some foreigners to do jobs "Americans won't do". They were called "slaves". It turned out there were some serious problems with this social policy. Haiti found this out first the very hard way, and America later did too. Eventually every country gave up on that old system, with Brazil being the last.

The descendants of these people did not achieve the American dream at the same rate as Jewish, Irish, Italian and Asian immigrants to which their modern day replacements are often compared. This was true after the system of oppression their former rulers enacted when they found themselves possible minorities in a political system their conquerors pledged to make a race-blind democracy. This was true after many well-meaning political figures attempted to assist them, including in areas which had never had slavery. So they find themselves alienated in a society which has greatly wronged their kind, and nobody of importance any solutions other than platitudes.

Fortunately for their luckier neighbors, they do not have enough numbers and power to do anything about this. This was not the case in other two-tier societies that were found throughout Africa, and no sensible person would want to follow their example (especially Zimbabwe). In Latin America the elite have been better able to retain power, but a choice between Castro and Pinochet is not one I would like to be confronted with, and it is only recently that this conflict there is beginning to take on the framing of race, which is far uglier than that of class.

You might say that this is different. These people are not the victims of kidnapping and have not been explicitly oppressed by our government, although some of them resent the territory we seized from them and our interference in their political systems in a manner that generally entrenched the elite. This is true. The same was true of the Jews of Europe, the Armenians of Turkey, the Indians of East Africa and the Lebanese of West Africa and the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia (to leave aside the closer but smaller example of Korean grocers in inner cities). This does not matter. The children of these immigrants did not ask to be born into a two-tier society, and the data indicates they are not escaping into the upper tier but becoming more and more like our old underclass than their parents or grandparents did, with the advancement of technology making their unskilled contributions becoming less and less necessary to the society they find themselves in. The inhabitants of Indonesia and the Phillipines similarly did not ask to be placed below the Chinese that live among them, and every once in a while this animosity boils over into indiscriminate murder. It was the murder of Amy Chua's aunt by her Phillipine servant that is partly responsible for the book "World on Fire", which deals with this issue more thoroughly than I can here. I do not want to have to build walls with broken glass or spikes on the top around my house. I do not want to be murdered because the combination of my comfortable status and my skin is an affront to those in the second tier. I also do not want to live in Sparta, transformed into a garrison society due to the need to suppress the helots. I urge you to seriously consider the experience of all the other such two-tier societies we have seen before blithely endorsing the turning of our own society into another one.

Mark Seecof writes:

Yeah, what about further down the line?

Plus, Peri makes a big mistake (or is it deliberate?): he assumes that native workers are "moving up" when many of them are just "dropping out." Immigrants who take low-skill jobs often displace natives into unemployment.

Peri repeats the story that fresh low-skilled immigrants just push down low-skill wages a little. He even talks about the way new immigrants hold down wages for previous immigrants in similar occupations. However, I think that story is flawed. Immigrants often reduce native workers' wages to nil by displacing them, even though the average wage in their job category may only go down a little (real world example: Mexicans in Los Angeles have driven virtually all American blacks out of construction work. Blacks can't get jobs even at the wages offered to Mexicans, because they don't speak Spanish or (often) because of bigotry). To calculate the real wage impact of uncontrolled immigration we need to add many unemployed Americans to the denominator.

Finally, let me complain about Peri's misuse of language for propaganda purposes. Peri has decided to call high-school diplomas and GED certificates "degrees." This makes them sound like college degrees, and lets Peri write very misleading phrases like "the number of native workers with no degree has been shrinking fast... U.S.-born workers are climbing the educational ladder, acquiring interactive/ analytic skills..."

In point of fact, we have been giving out HS diplomas and GED's like candy. They no longer indicate any notable academic achievement. Some HS diplomas don't even indicate basic literacy. Not only are we not producing more people with "interactive/analytic" skills, we are actually losing ground academically (check out literacy statistics).

So long as Peri lies about issues like that he can hardly expect us credit his other assertions.

The rest of that quote reads "...and [Americans are] progressively leaving the manual jobs that would put them in competition with immigrants." That's true enough, but many aren't leaving for softer jobs-- they're leaving for public assistance and crime.

Erik writes:

"Might be theoretically great for the interim, but what happens 20-30 years down the line, where the immigrants have kids who arent overly 'grateful' for being in america to do manual labour. When they cant move out of the manual labour trades - we edge closer to a breakup of the USA or outright civil war."

The kids will be natives. New immigrants will replace the old.

rps writes:

This article fails to supply evidence that interactive jobs are higher paying than manual jobs. Blue collar workers aren't moving up to be bioinformatics researchers, they're moving to call centers and customer service desks. Those jobs don't pay much more than burger flipping, and they pay less than blue collar jobs like construction, roofing, and meat packing, or at least less than they used to.

But that's not the main problem with economist's efforts to sell mass immigration to the public.

The real problem is that economists don't live in the real world. Immigrants aren't just cheap labor. They are people, with their own alien culture, and we don't want too many of them here. We have enough cheap labor that the marginal value of more burger flippers is not worth the transformation of our society, the creation of another racially identifiable underclass, or the loss of the what degree of egalitarian we still have - which is valuable despite your blithe dismissal of it. You may call this racist - but that's the real reason Americans were crashing senators' phone lines a month ago.

The one good thing about Mexican mass immigration is that we can be confident that they'll be even less likely than the current population to be taken in by libertarian economists, and your policies will have even less support than they do now.

TGGP writes:

The kids will be natives. New immigrants will replace the old.
They will technically be natives, but they will not be in the top tier. Crime, illegitimacy and welfare dependency all consistently go up from the first generation to second and from second to third. Education does go up from the first generation to the second, but goes down from second to third, indicating a plateau rather than catching up.

Horatio writes:

Advertise what they want, sell them what you want. Clearly, the anti-immigrant crowd is full of irrational bias. If they want to eat crap, let's feed it to them. We have to figure out how to package free labor policy in populist terms that sell to people like Lou Dobbs and his ilk. In the meantime, we should continue working towards more liberal policy, regardless of the beliefs of the sheeple. The rights of one man trump the desires of a thousand.

8 writes:

Economists often ignore culture. I think it's an open question as to whether economics is a subset of culture (institutions?).

The New Deal arrived after waves of southern Europeans (some my grandparents) came to America. Do you notice the left-leaning politics of Wisconsin and Minnesota match the the left leaning politics of Scandanavia? Many of the communists chased out by Bismark also headed for Wisconsin.

Richard A. writes:

Poorly educated immigrants have anti-libertarian beliefs on both social and economic issues. They and their kids will vote anti-libertarian. This goes to show you just how self-destructive the libertarian philosophy is.

Dezakin writes:

Lotsa hate here. Them dirty stupid mexicans vote for fascists and breed dirty stupid mexican kids.

And somehow white natives are superior to this seems to be the implication.

Crime, illegitimacy and welfare dependency all consistently go up from the first generation to second and from second to third.

We clearly need mass arrests of anybody descended from 18th-century immigrants.

TGGP writes:

Dezakin, I'm not trying to establish whether "white natives are superior" whatever that means, but I think it is pertinent how immigrants will vote and the generational trends we see. Do you disagree about their political opinions or whether their children are assimilating to middle class norms? If so, we can have something to argue over. If you are content to simply tar your opponents as racists and have it at that, there is not much point in discussion.

Horatio, I agree with you that much anti-immigrant sentiment is irrational anti-foreign bias. I am glad for once it plays out in favor of policies I support even if for reasons I don't (I see them taking jobs for lower wages as a good thing, as I would to an even greater degree if it were machines doing the same thing). I wish you took a more consequentialist rather than rights-based view of things though. A central lesson of modern economics is to think about the margin.

TGGP writes:

We clearly need mass arrests of anybody descended from 18th-century immigrants.
You can't honestly be that stupid. The point I was trying to make is that the Mexican immigrants today are NOT like those of the 19th century and we have the data to prove it! Even the Mexicans who have been here longer than others in New Mexico are lagging far behind, and they came before the welfare state and multiculturalism. Whether 19th century immigration and/or the immigration restriction acts passed in the 20s were good things is not what I am discussing here, but it is clear that current immigration cannot be compared to that of the past because the process of assimilation is not occurring but in fact the opposite (or assimilation to underclass norms) is.

rps writes:

Interesting how the libertarian side dismisses any arguments about culture as "ignorance".

Leaving aside the issue of how ignorant it is, this is another reason why your arguments fail to persuade the American public. The ones who are infected with PC say "dey turk our jobs!" when that's not really what it's about, because they don't want to appear bigoted. Consequently, making economic arguments for immigration is sort of like taking a girl who's blowing you off when she tells you she has to wash her hair that night literally.

If you won't address the issue, except with disgusted, contemptuous dismissal of it's importance, you're not going to make much headway.

Birch Barlow writes:

Mass unskilled immigration in modern America's technologically based society is pure insanity. I don't see where inner-city blacks, second- and third- generation Hispanics, and poor whites are rushing into high-paying white collar jobs because of low skill immigration. They are just making less money due to wage competition, or in some cases give up working outright in favor of welfare checks and selling dope. Even the ones still working are likely to need some sort of public assistance or extra-legal income to get by. As much as this may sound like I am trashing poor Americans, I'm not. No one who is willing to work should be stuck living on $1000 a month in the U.S.A., especially in California, where $1000/month offers less purchasing power than Mexico's Purchasing Power Parity* (mean purchasing power for every man, woman, and child in Mexico).

Thanks to our credential-based society, even many intelligent people are struggling until they can finally finish their degree. Never mind that the classes they still have to take to get their piece of paper (degree) have little to nothing to offer in terms of improving any real job skill--they just need to be able to wave that piece of paper.

Unskilled immigration, legal or illegal (and almost all illegal immigration is unskilled, which is why illegal immigration is such a devastating problem), should be stopped cold. Instead, the US should have a skills-based policy. Hundreds of millions (maybe billions) would love to come to the US, and we should be taking the best and brightest, not those born in the right geographical location (close to the USA) or right family connections (family members already in USA). With 500,000 to 1M immigrants coming in and helping to expand the high-tech economy, rather than competing with Americans and draining taxpayer dollars, the USA could be far better off. With immigration as it is today, the USA is likely to slide towards third-world conditions, and perhaps ultimately civil war, when middle-class Americans are no longer willing to give up what the increasingly vast underclass demands. With a skills-based immigration policy, the US economy will gain--perhaps vastly--with new, better, and more efficient technology. As a bonus, poverty will become less, rather than more, associated with being non-white. This could help reduce bigotry amongst whites and the middle-class and resentment by the underclass.

Also, Griggs v. Duke Power should also be overturned; I think it makes a lot more sense for bright 18-year olds to get into high-paying jobs ASAP, rather than being dependent on their parents and/or the govt for four years of college courses.

*Purchasing Power Parity in Mexico is currently about $10,000/year. Take $12,000 a year, divide by 1.5 (cost of living in California is about 50% higher than USA at large) and this works out to $8000, lower than Mexico's PPP.

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