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Clemens on Haiti

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The "Zero-Probability Fallacy"... Proposal for a Moral Budget...
Here at GMU Econ, Michael Clemens is "the one that got away."  We tried to hire him a couple years ago, but couldn't get him to yes.  His latest piece in the Washington Post is yet another reason to wish he were here:
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, one of the principal ways its victims helped themselves was by leaving. Katrina prompted one of the biggest resettlements in American history. Who would have blocked Interstate 10 with armed guards, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to suffer in the disaster zone, no matter how much assistance was coming in from outside? We wouldn't have done that, because it would have made us collectively responsible for their continued suffering. Why then, in the thoughtful debate that has emerged over how best to aid Haiti and help its citizens help themselves, are Americans still quiet about this sinister face of our immigration policy?
Wouldn't massive Haitian immigration be a disaster for the U.S.?  No way.
Currently, we allow a trickle of about 21,000 Haitian immigrants, on average, to enter the United States legally each year; most of them are able to come only because they are lucky enough to have a relative already here. What evidence do we have that we could not absorb triple that number, or even more? For years, we have been accepting close to 1 million permanent immigrants annually from around the world, with no lasting effects on the earnings of the average American worker. And while most economic studies find that such immigration may have lowered the wages of U.S. high school dropouts by a few percentage points, many of those dropouts are immigrants themselves, already earning far more than they would in their country of origin.
Needless to say, I've been in the Henderson Let Em In Club before there was a club.

HT: Distributed Republic


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COMMENTS (20 to date)
John Thacker writes:
Who would have blocked Interstate 10 with armed guards, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to suffer in the disaster zone, no matter how much assistance was coming in from outside?

The police of Jefferson Parish and Gretna, Lousiana? No, seriously. It was the Crescent City Connection Bridge they blocked.

Steve Z writes:

Why should Americans care about helping Haitians? Lots of people are dying and suffering all over the world, all the time. When did it become the mission of government to mitigate the suffering of the world?

Carter writes:

Except for the hyper-violent gangs, poverty, AIDS, and illiteracy, Haitian immigrants have been a boon for Miami.

David Smith writes:

Oh brother. We're going to depopulate every place that's got trouble and have them all crowd in here?

Tell you what: buy my house from me at my price to house a migrant family, let me emigrate in turn to Hong Kong, and I'll go along with that deal.

Michael Clemens writes:

@Steve Z: First, blocking migration is necessarily an active policy, not a passive one. So if migration does mitigate suffering, as you seem to agree that it does, then the right question is, Since when did it become the mission of the US government not to actively aggravate suffering by restricting liberty? That was the mission of the US government from the beginning, according to Thomas Jefferson, though not all the founders would have agreed.

@David Smith and Steve Z: I have no idea why both of you think that just because we cannot help every last poor person on earth, we should not help a few thousand Haitians. So few come here now that even a doubling of the annual flow would be a modest number. Haitians are only 2% of our annual immigrants. The poverty people have to endure in Haiti right now is beyond anything either of you has seen or can imagine, so a little humility is in order. We can help a few of them and we should.

Your casual implication that *zero* is the right number is inappropriate and shameful given the horrifying circumstances they face now. They face those circumstances because of where they were born and because of no fault of theirs whatsoever. You don't face them, because of where you were born and through no merit of yours.

Carter writes:

You can't seriously be claiming Haitians are blameless for the quality of life in Haiti.

Regarding Jefferson, he didn't want Haitians to come here, he wanted blacks to go to there.


John Thacker writes:
You can't seriously be claiming Haitians are blameless for the quality of life in Haiti.

No, but considering how well Haitian immigrants have done in this country, you can't seriously be claiming that Haitians are fully responsible for it, either.

Steve Z writes:

Mr. Clemens,

First, thank you for coming to this blog's comment threads and responding to the humble commentators. Now, for the substance of your post. The logic you apply to Haiti applies equally well to every place--or every person--experiencing a similar level of suffering. Ultimately, then, you are calling for fully open borders. A laudable goal, but one with drawbacks, given the ground rules American life runs on today: the ability to vote others out of their liberties, welfare, and so on.

But that's not really what I wanted to get at with my comment. The real issue is that helping others is a preference. You'd like to see the government help more; others might not share your preference, or might value other things more highly. I imagine you don't live on a subsistence level so you can save as many lives and alleviate as much suffering as you can. It is unlikely you will win over many who aren't already for open borders without discussing the trade-offs in the proposal. Specifically, you should try to win over those who have other preferences.

Best regards,
Steve Z

Mercer writes:

I think a proper immigration policy is one that benefits the citizens of the republic. I don't think the republic is a charity.

If letting in low skilled immigrants is good public policy why is our leading immigrant state insolvent? I don't think immigrants are the sole source of CA fiscal mess but letting in millions of people who receive more in government benefits then they pay in taxes is fiscally unsound. Milton Friedman stated it correctly you can not have open borders and a welfare state.

MikeP writes:

Milton Friedman also said...

"If you have free immigration, in the way we had it before 1914, everybody benefited. The people who were here benefited. The people who came benefited. Because nobody would come unless he, or his family, thought he would do better here than he would elsewhere. And, the new immigrants provided additional resources, provided additional possibilities for the people already here. So everybody can mutually benefit."

"But on the other hand, if you come under circumstances where each person is entitled to a pro-rata share of the pot, to take an extreme example, or even to a low level or the pie, than the effect of that situation is that free immigration, would mean a reduction of everybody to the same, uniform level. Of course, I'm exaggerating, it wouldn't go quite that far, but it would go in that direction. And it is that perception, that leads people to adopt what at first seems like inconsistent values."

"Look, for example, at the obvious, immediate, practical example of illegal Mexican immigration. Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It's a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It's a good thing for the United States. It's a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it's only good so long as its illegal."

"That's an interesting paradox to think about. Make it legal and it's no good. Why? Because as long as it's illegal the people who come in do not qualify for welfare, they don't qualify for social security, they don't qualify for the other myriad of benefits that we pour out from our left pocket to our right pocket. So long as they don't qualify they migrate to jobs. They take jobs that most residents of this country are unwilling to take. They provide employers with the kind of workers that they cannot get. They're hard workers, they're good workers, and they are clearly better off."

Mercer writes:

They now qualify for free public schooling and free medical care when they go to the emergency room.

"They take jobs that most residents of this country are unwilling to take."

Residents will do any job as long as the pay is high enough.

MikeP writes:

Residents will do any job as long as the pay is high enough.

Let's just say that forcing strawberry farmers to bid against factories in order to acquire their labor is ruinous for the whole economy.

Plain and simple, low skilled immigrants have a comparative advantage in the jobs they take over all natives save the most unskilled high school drop-out. Prohibiting their taking those jobs on mutually agreeable terms is wealth destroying.

AJ writes:

80% of Haitian college graduates move to the U.S. The Haitians here are not a statistical sample of what letting in Haitians from the general population would do... and they still contain more bad apples than many other immigrant groups. Why is it that we should allow in Haitians. How about Eastern Europeans? They better educated and harder working and their economies suck almost as bad as Haiti.

Mercer writes:

"Let's just say that forcing strawberry farmers to bid against factories in order to acquire their labor is ruinous for the whole economy"

Trying to keep wages low is ruinous to our government's budget. Low wage workers pay no income tax and receive government paid schooling and healthcare.

If farm owners don't want to increase wages they have another option - automation. Increasing productivity through automation is what is good for the economy.

If farmers do not want to increase wages or use labor saving technology they can grow their crops in Mexico and export to the US. If farmers want to pay Mexican labor rates what is wrong with them moving their operations to Mexico? Don't you believe in comparative advantage?

mulp writes:

Isn't this taking a radical leftist liberal stance on immigration?

Two years ago, the ADL re-released John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants, with a foreword by Ted Kennedy. A bit from Teddy's intro:

"Immigration reform is an opportunity to be true to our ideals as a nation. At the heart of the issue of immigration is hope. Hope for a better life for hard-working people and their families. Hope for their children. Martin Luther King had a dream that children would be judged solely by "the content of their character." That dream will never die. I believe that we will soon succeed in enacting the kind of reform that our ideals and national security demand.

"As we continue the battle, we will have ample inspiration in the lives of the immigrants all around us. From Jamestown to the Pilgrims to the Irish to today's workers, people have come to this country in search of opportunity. They have sought nothing more than the chance to work hard and bring a better life to themselves and their families. They come to our country with their hearts and minds full of hope. I believe we can build the kind of tough, fair and practical reform that is worthy of our shared history as immigrants and as Americans.

"With these challenges in mind, I commend this volume. Written five decades ago, its powerful vision still guides us."

We all know where the McCain-Kennedy bill in the spirit of President Bush's call for seriously addressing immigration went. And Tea Party America is as xenophobic as when these events took place:
1790 and 1795 Naturalization Act
1857 Supreme Court Case: Dred Scott v. Sanford
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act
1923 Supreme Court Case: United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
1924 Immigration Act
1952 Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarren Walter Act)
1954 Operation Wetback

Bottom line, nice ivory tower idealism, which this liberal agrees is a worthy ideal, but you are disconnected from reality. If Ted Kennedy, John McCain, President Bush and many others from both parties couldn't craft a compromise on an immigration issue that just won't go away, then such arguments are just empty rhetoric.

How about something that applies to the real world?

shecky writes:

"Trying to keep wages low is ruinous to our government's budget."

If this is the case, why not advocate a $20/hr minimum wage? Everyone wins, right?

"If farm owners don't want to increase wages they have another option - automation."

Nothing is stopping farmers from automating already. Except practical concerns. In fact, all industries tend to automate when it becomes viable. Suggesting farmers automate when it isn't practical is equivalent to suggesting farmers pay exorbitant wages, or suggest farmers hire pixies to do work. Either way, it's to suggest farmers adopt prohibitively expensive or non-existent technology.

"If farmers do not want to increase wages or use labor saving technology they can grow their crops in Mexico and export to the US."

You were just bemoaning the loss of tax base by employing low wage workers. Now you suggest moving industry abroad, which would have an even deeper impact on the tax base. Heads, I win, tails, you lose. Is it possible you don't care a bit about lost tax revenues, but are rather grasping for any excuse to justify restrictive immigration policy?

"Isn't this taking a radical leftist liberal stance on immigration?"

Radical-check. Leftist-check. Liberal-check. OK, now I'm scared. We must oppose freer immigration, despite the benefits to the economy, to the immigrants, and to the consumers, because immigration has been tagged with scary code words.

Immigration always exposes the yokeltarians. Forget about conservatism. We need a better brand of self described libertarian.

MikeP writes:

Don't you believe in comparative advantage?

Of course I believe in comparative advantage.

Apparently I believe it much more than you do because I believe that it applies even to collections of people that don't hew exclusively to lines on a map.

Mercer writes:

"You were just bemoaning the loss of tax base by employing low wage workers. Now you suggest moving industry abroad, which would have an even deeper impact on the tax base. Heads, I win, tails, you lose. Is it possible you don't care a bit about lost tax revenues, but are rather grasping for any excuse to justify restrictive immigration policy?"

Low wage workers don't pay income tax. Farmland is frequently taxed much less then other land. I don't see how losing workers who don't pay income tax and maybe having that land used for a different purpose that pays higher taxes hurts the tax base.

"why not advocate a $20/hr minimum wage"

Because some workers are not that productive. I do agree that when it comes to who should be allowed to immigrate to the US having people like doctors who have high salaries should be favored over strawberry pickers.

bruce writes:

>Because some workers are not that productive.

'Some' management are not that productive. 'Some' government employees are not that productive.

We need a first world industrial base back. We need lots of new nuke plants, we need a light plane industry, we need high wage jobs that are so commmon even morons make good money. We don't need more immigrants picked to be helpless helots forced to vote Democrat.

Ric Locke writes:

Solution: Make all immigration illegal. And make it hard to get past The Authorities.

As follows: Immigrants prior to the present day all had significant hurdles to cross. They had to get away from their lords and masters, which was often a non-trivial exercise. They had to pay for the trip, which was a real stretch for anyone at normal (i.e., low) wage levels. When they got here they had to learn a new language and a new set of cultural norms. And they knew all that from the get-go, so what we got was people who were both motivated and able, regardless of what social stratum they originated from.

Today's immigrant has no such barriers. His homeland is often glad to see him go, especially if the people there think he'll send money home. Plane tickets are cheap relative to real wages, and the trip is well-nigh instantaneous, so they don't have to feed themselves on a long voyage -- and like as not they can find an NGO or charity to pay their way. When they arrive, they find an array of services geared to allowing (and, in fact, encouraging) them to preserve their native language and customs. And they know all that before deciding to leave, so what we get is people anxious to "share the wealth" (I include trained people who come for the higher wages in that, as well as the batteners on social assistance programs).

So what we need is a filter, some barrier to immigration that values fortitude, ingenuity, determination, and flexible ability over greed and simple whim. Genuine barriers to immigration would serve the purpose admirably. Build a migra that's hard to get past; the ones that make it would be in the mold of the Irish who mortgaged themselves and their children for life to get across the Pond.

It works for Mexicans, at least away from places where crossing the border has become too easy.

Regards,
Ric

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